Why industry can't pay lip service to diversity anymore

Senior advisor Jackie Porter tells WP she hopes the surge in support for Black Lives Matter is a wake-up call for wealth management

Why industry can't pay lip service to diversity anymore

The police killing of George Floyd has sparked global protests and huge support for the Black Lives Matter movement. In a new three-part series, WP talks to finance professionals of colour and asks them about their experiences of racism and how the industry can instigate real change. In part two, Jackie Porter says this is a unique moment in time and a golden opportunity for the industry to change.

If the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests around the world don’t spark genuine social change, Jackie Porter does not know what will.

The senior advisor at Carte Wealth Management hopes the urgency of the current debate is a wake-up call for the wealth management industry and that the onus is on CEOs to bring people of colour to the table to allow their voices to be heard. From a purely bottom-line perspective, she also believes firms will miss a huge opportunity if they don’t ensure recruitment is in line with how Canada looks.

Porter is optimistic, however, because this era of cell phones and videos has enabled Floyd’s horrific death to be captured. It’s meant people of all colours have had a deep reaction and experienced, to some small degree, what the black community has dealt with for centuries.

“It's shocking if you've never had to deal with racial profiling,” she said. “Younger people, in particularly, that I've spoken to are much more affected by [Floyd’s death] because they hear about it and maybe see it to a much lesser extent.

“But when it's up close and personal, when you're looking at someone literally dying in front of you, there’s a very human emotion associated with that. It's visceral. You feel the pain. If you're someone who has had to deal with that, it's a scar that you have, an armour that you carry. And I think the less you're exposed to that, the more hurt you feel.”

Porter joked she wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep over being called an “opinionated pain in the ass” but for someone to leverage her colour to say something about her is hurtful. Everyone just wants to be seen for their humanity, she added, and what has woken the world up is seeing someone’s humanity die in front of them.

From those assuming she is someone’s assistant to people’s reaction – after praising her marketing – to the fact she is a woman of colour, Porter told WP she has experienced various forms of racism during her career in wealth management. She said: “They made a decision in that moment that they wanted nothing to do with me. It's just fascinating. My colour is just DNA; it’s random.”

Another time, she was featured in a magazine article about an award in which she was the only person of colour nominated. In the interview she spoke on numerous topics but only one line, about the industry being full of “old white men”, got printed. She said: “It was such a hurtful thing to happen because I was alone out there by myself with no support. They just threw me out there … and it felt like every room I went into people assumed I was the rebel or troublemaker.”

She doesn’t regret saying that but does regret the missed opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about race in the industry. It’s an area where she hopes the profession has learnt valuable lessons.

“I don't expect you to know what it feels like to be in my shoes. But if you're going to ask, ask authentically, listen and be prepared to hear the answer, even if it's something you're uncomfortable with. That was a missed opportunity. We could have had a conversation that brought this forward, where we were having a conversation about race and the wealth management industry. Instead, it just became an opportunity to dehumanize me and dehumanize what was going on.”

Porter believes recent events have given wealth management firms a huge opportunity to make changes. The million-dollar question now is whether they will seize it and recruit more people of colour and be more diverse? She believes there are “a million ways to do this”.

“This is a moment in time,” she said. “I don't think companies can just go along [with the status quo] anymore. It can't be lip service. There are so many different things they can do through their social responsibility programs in terms of building financial literacy in underserved communities, making board positions available to minorities and people of colour and women, and changing hiring practices.”

She added: “For a lot of people of colour, racism is what we've lived with, so we know. What's beautiful about this is others can see and experience a little bit of what it's like, and if that helps us all to see humanity a little bit clearer then we know we have to act.”