In order to grow, one must reflect on and balance two concepts – reality and possibility.
As a diversity and inclusion practitioner, I have long-been aware of the reality for minorities, and I‘ve been committed to helping drive improvements. It wasn’t until I became a parent though that I truly understood the role I need to take to make sure that my sons had the opportunity to live in the realm of possibility vs. reality – that they could be anything they wanted, go anywhere they wanted, dream the impossible and make it possible. My husband and I knew we’d have to one day have “the talk” with our sons – a conversation black parents inevitably have with their children regarding how people may treat them. We didn’t know we’d have to do it before they turned 10 years old. That is when my oldest son was called the “n-word” by a white student who he thought was his friend. My husband and I reassured him that word didn’t define who he was, nor his potential, but we needed to do more. We asked him if he wanted to transfer to another school. But even at this very young age he told us that we can’t make it better if we leave. Instead, he gave me my marching orders – be an agent of change. I met with the administrators, teachers and staff and mobilized for sweeping change on the use of hateful speech, on the treatment of students and adults, expanding curriculum and music programs to add multicultural history and improving the number of students and faculty of diverse backgrounds.
Anyone can be an agent of change simply by speaking up when you see or hear something that you don’t think is right. For me, it just took one word – with such unfortunate power, meanness, with history so raw, real and painful – to inspire action.
Negotiating systems is a challenge. Confronting and dismantling systems is a journey. Educating and advocating for change is the response. Before we can get to the advocation of change, we need to wrestle with and acknowledge how we got here. Therefore, we must begin with providing a learning opportunity. Post-slavery systems such as vagrancy laws, Jim Crow, and equal access to housing became the breeding ground for the wealth gap that exists today. For example, the average black household has 60% of the income of the average white household and only 1/10 of the household wealth. This metric has its roots in those systems. While much has improved in terms of opportunities and outlawing discriminatory practices, the damage done still lingers amongst diverse populations.
In order to make lasting change, we must understand the differences between bias, prejudice, discrimination and racism and how we can work together to eradicate them.
- Bias is the root of all unequal treatment. It is typically held deep within the subconscious, rendering the individual largely unaware of its presence. Biases can be formed by life experiences or learned and internalized from others.
- Prejudice literally means “to judge, in advance,” in Latin. Prejudging can be influenced based on nothing other than one’s personal biases.
- Discrimination is where unfair treatment becomes active.
- When discrimination is carried out at an institutional scale toward a certain population due to racial differences, that is racism.
But people only see racism as an extreme. Bias, prejudice and discrimination happen all the time, sometimes unknowingly and sometimes at a micro level.
How we respond and create equitable opportunity for everyone is all of our responsibilities. As financial professionals, you can approach clients with a perspective that impacts change and creates space for greater access. Closing the wealth gap takes commitment to understanding that the ability to create intergenerational wealth wasn’t doled out equally. Access to resources could change the trajectory of someone’s life, which is why the fundamentals of financial literacy and wellness are critical.
You must meet people where they are. It means creating opportunities to educate a broad swath of people from diverse backgrounds about the importance of creating and sustaining wealth and the vehicles required to do it. It may seem simple and sophomoric, but it may require simply getting to know people and checking our own biases and preconceived ideas of what we think we know about them. You know yourself better than anyone, so be slow to speak and quick to listen. Be cognizant of your own biases and self-aware enough when they are appropriate and when they need to be checked.
Episode 12 – From the desk of: Erika Whyte, AVP of Diversity & Inclusion at Lincoln Financial Group
Be an agent of change
Erika Whyte explains the importance of education, awareness of bias, and conversation to inspire action.