Why Diversity Matters: If You Can See It, You Can Be It

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I love the saying “If you can see it, you can be it” because it encapsulates just how important it is to have role models, and how much easier it makes our journey if we can see others like us clearing the path ahead.

That’s why I was touched by a story recounted by Brett Steenbarger in Forbes on “Why Diversity Matters In The World Of Finance.” Brett is actually a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, and tells this story about a conversation with his own young daughter:

“When my youngest daughter was quite little, she asked if we could play a game of doctor with her dolls. I quickly agreed and handed her the toy stethoscope. She immediately frowned and returned the instrument. “Boys are the doctors,” she explained, as she picked up the nurse’s hat.

I was shocked. I had never thought of myself as a sexist parent, but I quickly realized that every doctor she had seen was male. Every nurse was female. That was the only world she knew!

Fast forward to the late 1990’s and the medical school where I taught decided to increase the number of underrepresented medical students: African-American, Hispanic, rural, female, and international. Invitations went out to colleges and we held open house events. Attendance was disappointing until the administration started a new internship program. College students from those underrepresented groups spent a summer internship shadowing physicians to see what medicine was all about. During the internship, every student had to wear a lab coat, and every student was referred to with Dr. in front of their last name. That worked! Once students had a taste of being a doctor, they could wrap their heads around becoming doctors. Like my daughter, most of them had never seen a physician like themselves.”

We’re facing a similar struggle in my chosen career of personal finance. On the one hand, we know that the level of financial literacy in this country is truly abysmal. As a result, young people (and older people for that matter) get off on the wrong foot and find themselves indebted and ill-prepared for the financial realities of a world that puts more and more of the responsibility and burden on their shoulders.

We know that many people are most receptive to taking financial advice and guidance from someone like them, but the problem comes with the “like them” part. Women and people of color are still woefully underrepresented in the ranks of Certified Financial Planner professionals or even financial advisors, broadly defined.

In my thirty years plus in the profession, with twenty-five years as the owner of my own firm, I struggled nonstop to address and rectify that imbalance, but the problem is complex, tangled, and frustrating. The solution will not be easy.

I firmly believe, as does Steenbarger, that seeing diverse role models does matter to women, and undoubtedly to others as well.

Steenbarger’s research turned up an interesting statistic:

“When a daughter has a mother who works in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematical (STEM) field, she is 48% more likely to work in finance than a son in the same situation. Women are less likely to pursue careers in financial markets if they don’t perceive role models, and the field cannot generate role models without growing a base of women professionals.”

Personally, my mom did work outside the home, which certainly encouraged me to have a career, but she was not a STEM professional, and while I liked math and science, I never envisioned myself as a future STEM professional either. Yet here I am.

So here’s the bottom line. Change takes time. If you can be a role model for others, and help them along the path, do so. Diversity makes all of us stronger, and our profession stronger, as we serve a very diverse group of consumers with a very diverse collection of issues and problems. Do your part by living your life well, and remember the saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” When you exemplify the change you want to see, you start to change the world, one person at a time.

1 thoughts on “Why Diversity Matters: If You Can See It, You Can Be It

  1. Janet Malley Richard says:

    What a well written, thoughtful article! Another person I would enjoy meeting and knowing.
    Thanks, Mari

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