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Renée Baker has had an illustrious career in marketing in the asset management industry in North America. She joined Raymond James, a subsidiary of Carillon Tower Advisers, in 2017 as their chief marketing officer. Then in 2019, she changed path by joining Raymond James in Saint Petersburg, Florida, to lead the firm’s efforts in building more diverse adviser networks. In this article, we talk about racial diversity, strategies for recruiting and retaining people from diverse groups, and how small companies can make their mark.

Good morning, Renée. Can you start by telling me what the areas of diversity and inclusion are in your role?

I lead the advisor and inclusion networks at Raymond James within the firm’s private client group. We currently have three networks: the Women’s Financial Advisors Network (1994), Black Financial Advisors Network (2013), and Pride Financial Advisors Network (2020). Through the networks, I deliver resources and strategies and provide a forum for sharing ideas to enhance their businesses. Additionally, I am focused on increasing the representation of diverse advisors within the firm and the industry, working closely with Raymond James PCG Education & Practice Management and the head of diversity and inclusion. My team and I work closely with the three advisory councils that comprise some of the top advisors within the firm who are very dedicated to these initiatives, as is the firm’s senior leaders.

With George Floyd’s death this year, has the issue of race become more important in your role?

I have the opportunity to balance all three networks, and we have different initiatives that we’re working on across the board. However, following the death of George Floyd and others, there’s been a continued and increased focus on promoting racial equity in the firm and the black communities in the wake of the national reckoning around racism. So that is an area of focus. It’s not changing what we’re doing for our Women’s and Pride Financial Advisors Networks; we’ve identified that we have an area that requires additional support so we’re doing that. There is a great deal of work that needs to be done when it comes to diversity and inclusion and it continues across the board.

What are some of your current initiatives?

We have several initiatives taking place right now. One area we are focused on at the firm is developing programmes that are specifically designed to train the next generation of financial advisors, with a concentrated effort on inclusion and diversity.

We are running three programmes. The Advisor Mastery programme targets advisors who are just entering the field, working with them to develop their skills and give them the support they need to begin their career. The Wealth Management Associate programme is a precursor to the Advisor Mastery programme. And the Registered Associate Mentoring programme helps registered associates navigate the career shift from being an associate to becoming a financial advisor.

We’re working with different student populations to help them understand the discipline of financial planning. We’re participating in programmes that reach more students, such as historically black colleges and universities, women’s groups, and multicultural MBA programmes. And we engage with campus diversity group leaders with the ultimate goal of enhancing diversity in the financial planning industry.

We also have a career-changing programme. Some of our most successful advisers have joined the firm from other industries. So whether it’s teaching, legal, or engineering, we are working to expose diverse professionals to the career opportunity.

Advisor Inclusion Networks also promote deeper relationships and idea-sharing through mentoring programmes.  We recently launched a Black Financial Advisors Coaching programme and have launched women-focused coaching programmes to help advisors continue to grow their business.

So that covers recruitment of new advisors, Renée, and it sounds really impressive. What about retention and inclusion – how do you hold onto these great people once you’ve hired and trained them?

While our recruiting efforts will bring new diversity into the firm, we also want to ensure we’re investing in the professional and career development of our existing, diverse advisor population.

To that point, I’m also responsible for how we invest in our advisors. We host three annual symposia, supporting each of the advisor inclusion networks. These events provide opportunities for personal and professional growth and networking.

You asked earlier if our focus on the black community takes away from what we’re doing with others? Well, I’m currently preparing our 26th Annual Women’s Symposium, which will be virtual for the first time due to the pandemic. That is such a dynamic event: we bring our women advisors together from across the US, Canada, and the UK to focus on growing their businesses. We also hold an annual Black Financial Advisors Network Symposium, and we’re planning our first Pride Symposium in June 2021.

Each network contributes to specialised content to educate advisors on the planning needs of the community they represent.

Through Advisor Inclusion Networks, we also manage ongoing communication forums to support the networks, including networking calls, practice management emails and toolkits, and webinars.

As a small company we typically recruit from other companies in our industry, and I feel that the whole sector in the UK is under-represented, particularly in the black community. I’m interested to know that you’re going into colleges and promote the financial sector as a career opportunity. I wonder what impact you’re seeing from that work?

The impact is going to be a longer-term game that requires intentional focus and investing in and executing on the tactics that are required to see the impact we would like to see when it comes to building awareness of diverse audiences and attracting them to financial services.  We recognise that there’s still not a large percentage of women in the industry – the industry average is about 15-16%. For black advisors in the industry the number is lower, hovering around 1-2%.

But for us to change, it’s going to mean that we have to start planting seeds. It’s about getting in front of younger students, having those conversations earlier, and if we do that right, then we should not be having this conversation in the same way in 10 years.

It’s going to take a great deal of work and collaboration across the industry to move the needle and the industry as a whole needs to change the way it hires and cultivates talent – especially if we want to attract and, more importantly, retain talent in financial services.

Do you think the industry is stepping up in the same way as Raymond James?

Yes, I think the industry has recognised this for years, especially around women. A lot of the programmes have focused on women’s initiatives. And we’ve seen tremendous change and impact from having that intentional focus on bringing more women into the industry.

Now we need to apply that same process and intentionality into bringing more diverse voices into the conversation. I think we all need to be more intentional in our focus, and that should help us to change the make-up of our industry overall.

Do you think there’s been a change in behaviour across the industry since George Floyd’s death and the protests that have sprung up across the country?

What I have observed, for the first time in my career, is that this is a topic. In the years that I’ve worked in financial services, this is the first time that I recall that this topic has had this much attention, discussion and action. It would be nice to see this change continue.

Diversity and inclusion were important; the business case is clear. But there is a more human approach I’m seeing. I’ve never seen firms or individuals making public statements around the commitment to addressing racial inequality, the learning and self-education that is taking place and the self-awareness from people willing to speak up about the need for change like they are now.

Across the board, I see more organisations and individuals stepping up and working to address the issues of systemic racism.  They’re recognising that there’s a need to do more and be better.

What would you advise a small company like ours to do in this situation?

When you have a conversation, really listen to your people. For us, (although we are not small) we’ve been having the conversations and drawing insights from our teams.

I think that firms need to do what is right for their organisation, and what works within their culture. We always say here at Raymond James that our business is people. So it was important for us to listen to the people, because they were going to help inform us on what we needed to do to move things forward.

Another suggestion is to take action and have accountability to do what you say you are going to do. Creating a diversity and inclusion committee is another way to incorporate diverse perspectives and to help make you aware of the sentiment within the organization and give input on potential changes.

What about the challenge of saying something and being accused of opportunism?

I think it’s going to be different for all organisations, and I think that what we needed to do was not to be silent. That silence may be viewed as complicity.

I get that you don’t want to appear opportunistic. In late May, early June, there was a lot going on, and I think it was okay to pause. A lot of firms went into action, and people felt compelled to do something right away. Of course, it’s easy to write a cheque or write a statement on social media, but what’s not easy is to look hard at yourself and your organisation and have an internal view of how you’re aligning with your values and what you’re going to do to move forward. To do that, we needed to be driven by our values and people and listen to them. It’s important to seek to understand and engage in a way that is empathetic and civil.

We recognise that it’s doing the right thing to have the conversation and open the dialogue, but it’s important to be actionable in the time and space that is right for the organisation. It’s going to be different for everyone, but I do think it is important just to not be silent, especially if it were something that was important to that organisation.

What matters is being authentic to yourself and the organisation. Each company or each person is different. It’s about progress. These things take time, and this is a long game. So if you’re being slower to act, but that’s going to work for your organisation authentically, because you are being intentional and thoughtful while taking the time to put together an action plan that works for your organisation – then that’s better than being false and representing something that you can’t be or does not align with your values.

Thank you Renee. Your insight’s been invaluable and helpful for me and my firm. Are there any final remarks you’d like to make?

It’s been quite a journey and I welcome the conversation, Ross.

This year has been unprecedented in so many ways, and we are all trying to get through it.

We have to extend one another some grace, seek to understand, and be open to different perspectives. These are not easy conversations to have – so I appreciate you for doing what you can to change the conversation. That’s all we can do, right? We are doing our best to get better every day.

 

This interview took place in August 2020