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‘Decentering’ Remains a Challenge for White Male Wealth Management Leaders

Things can go awry when leaders demonstrate limited awareness of their privilege and anchor interactions with others based on their personal experiences alone.

As a child, I remember my siblings, cousins and myself screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” when we sought eyes and attention on whatever amusing activity we tried. The stakes, and screaming, elevated each time somebody else received the praise and affirmation we also wanted for ourselves.

Now as an adult, the chant “Look at me!” seems extremely loud in wealth management, with white males clamoring to remain the center of attention—and opportunity—while underrepresented leaders and talent retort “Enough is enough!”

Having all eyes and energy directed toward you can be a very seductive thing. You often receive more credit than deserved with high expectations of success and effective leadership. High visibility and majority status come with privileges and pressures.

Yet the fascinating aspect of this human tendency to crave attention continues to wreak havoc in wealth management. White males, who represent the majority in C-suite and middle management, relish in, yet fail to realize, their perceived “preferred status” while also quickly denouncing any claims that privilege stems from their gender and race.

It’s easy for a wealth management leader to decry harm caused by inconsiderate and unjust actions. After all, we’re human.

Yet, things also go awry when leaders demonstrate limited awareness of their privilege and anchor interactions with others based on their personal experiences alone.

In a recent Twitter feed, a well-known, white female entrepreneur in financial services shared her experience and challenges launching and funding a startup.

A well-known, white male serial entrepreneur in financial services responded, in a tone-deaf manner, that he too experienced the same pushback and scrutiny when launching each of his enterprises.

He centered his response on his journey with no significant acknowledgment of her lived experience and poignant observations as a female entrepreneur in a predominantly male industry being scrutinized by predominantly male investors. To his detriment, he severely discounted the unlevel playing field and unleashed fury among many FinTwit followers.

I immediately saw “Look at me!” when I read his long thread of tweets; so did other female financial advisors who shared their distaste for rampant white male centering. Centering your experience to relate can be a tough habit to break, especially when you hold the majority label.

The decentering process requires an openness to other perspectives for effective communication and engagement. The best way to accelerate the process is to join conversations outside of your comfort zone with the intent to listen and learn. Dive into research, books and other relevant content to apprise yourself of the history, cultural nuances, opportunities and challenges faced by colleagues with materially different experiences. Start with colleagues in your immediate circle who understand your intent and who can join you on the journey of delving deeper into diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging. And, as often as you can, confess that you don’t know what you don’t know and remain open to discovery and correction.

Another important step is to acknowledge the potential destruction caused by FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to receiving attention, status and relevancy in an increasingly diverse environment. One finserv colleague recognized the undermining that can happen when the focus of the conversation is on a specific impacted group but the majority demands the attention; she wrote in the Twitter thread that it was akin to when “Black Lives Matter was co-opted to All Lives Matter as opposition.”

Non-majority wealth management leaders make a rightful plea for white males in wealth management to share the spotlight, listen with intent and respond in a space-sharing spirit. Excuses, such as “I didn’t know” and “I didn’t mean to be [fill-in-the-blank],” no longer have the same grace given the multitude of data and conversations about inclusive leadership. For the sake of the profession we love and the clients we serve, let’s commit to #DoingTheWork so that talent and clients alike say, “Look at us!”

Lazetta Rainey Braxton is the co-founder and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, founder of Lazetta & Associates.


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