Richardson Wealth on a 'journey' to full diversity

Black employees requested Black Opportunity Fund donation for community visibility

Richardson Wealth on a 'journey' to full diversity

Richardson Wealth has donated $50,000 to the Black Opportunity Fund as part of the diversity initiative that it is actively pursuing within its company, too.

“We, at Richardson Wealth, actually have a Black African and Caribbean employee resource group,” Kerri-Ann Clare Sylvestre, Vice-President of Richardson’s Retail Syndication Capital Markets Products told Wealth Professional.

“We’ve met quite often – though it’s been more challenging, obviously, in the pandemic – to discuss any number of matters that are important in our community. One of the things that we wanted to support was this fund. We wanted our firm to support it because we felt that we need to be visible within the community. That matters to us.”

The fund is a community-led registered Canadian charitable organization that aims to help Black communities reach greater economic and social success. Sylvestre said it was launched with the public support of 51 black leaders, including those from financial institutions and investment firms. That includes Michael Williams, Richardson’s Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer, who is also part of Richardson’s Black employee resource group.

Richardson’s donation is part of the fund’s capital raising, so it can prioritize education, health care, youth, women, social justice, arts, culture, immigration, technology, entrepreneurship, and government initiatives that impact the Black community’s quality of life.

“It’s a group of people who are passionate about finding different ways to dismantle anti-Black racism,” said Sylvestre. “But, I really like the concept that it’s a sustainable pool of capital to fund a number of different opportunities. They also want to support a number of existing organizations that are already engrained in the community, but might need support. So, we hope that, we as a firm will continue to contribute to these types of efforts.”

Lynne Brejak, Richardson’s Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, said the firm has had a number of initiatives but, with the recent ownership changes, there’s been “a lot more traction and focus on them in the last six to 12 months.” Not only does it have the Black employee resource group, but LGBTQ and environment groups, and it’s introducing more.

Women are a key focus, she said, because “one of the things that we’re really looking at is trying to have 50% of our investment advisor population be female within the next five years.” She’s excited about that because women comprise 30% of its executive committee and 60% of its senior leadership, and they want to see what they need to do to both attract more women and have them thrive in the firm.

“We’re already in a really good place. We already do a lot of great programs,” said Brejak, noting that the firm has already won awards for best workplace for women and hybrid work in 2021. But, it’s developing more programs, such as an intern program and masterclass where female associates can develop their skills.

“We’ve got a lot of work going on, particularly focused on females right now, but we think that’s going to benefit many people. And we’re just building our template as to how we can get better at it in all groups,” she said, noting they’ll apply lessons learned to other groups. 

Sylvestre, a Black female, is comfortable with this approach as it is setting the firm’s intention. But, she said, “the one thing I can say about this (Black employee resource) group is it give us an opportunity to speak as a community within a community at Richardson Wealth. So, we’re able to bounce ideas off each other about the things that we think may help us and what we can bring to our leadership team. It does help, too, that the leader is one of the participants on the executive committee. So, we’ve been able to give ideas to the leadership team as to how we think we can help our community and help ourselves within the organization. We are a small firm, so it’s step by step. But, it’s a starting point.”

Brejak, who has been in a leadership role in three firms and worked in the industry for almost four decades, describes the process as a journey: “This isn’t a new story around diversity and inclusion. But, it’s certainly starting to feel, at least in our firm, that we’re getting a little bit more into it and it’s actually meaningful this time.

“When it comes to these matters, it has to be purposeful and it has to be consistent, and I think that we’re well on our way with that. The firm is open to diversity and it’s open to suggestion and ideas, so I think we’re well positioned to move forward.”