You Can’t Just Teach Bias Away

There is little question that 2020 was a bad year – the pandemic wreaked havoc worldwide, drove healthcare systems to the breaking point and served to highlight pervasive social inequities, with women and minorities bearing the brunt.

But even as the pandemic continues to rage, there is hope – vaccines are on their way, plans are being made to revive the economies and individuals, organizations and communities are reviewing how they can help create more equitable environments moving forward.

Financial organizations in particular are reviewing their current diversity programs to bolster their effectiveness and are trying to determine what else they could do. This is a good thing, but it begs the question, “why has so little changed over the decades”. Women and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented in the financial community – to the industry’s detriment.

Many organizations have relied on diversity and sensitivity training to change the status quo. And while training programs are important -- it takes more than short-term training to combat and eradicate bias. In fact, studies show this type of training only creates temporary modifications in attitudes, but very few result in widespread change in behavior.

Real change seems to involve putting people from different groups in the same room, on the same team and in the same neighborhood to produce more permanent changes.

“People change when they are put in new environments, in permanent relationship with diverse groups of people….Decades ago, the social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote about the contact hypothesis, that doing life together with people of other groups can reduce prejudice and change minds.”

So, says David Brooks of The New York Times in his opinion piece of December 31, 2020.

Translation: People adapt to diversity when they face it in their own world permanently. It is a personal and emotional connection, not a logical argument, that causes them to change.

So what can financial organization do better – where and how should they start? We believe that while inclusivity at all levels is a must, starting with women who represent 51% of the population should be a no-brainer. Start with creating an inclusive environment and then train.

Environment first followed by training

What this means for organizations truly committed to change is, that it’s as easy and as difficult as: if you want more women as financial advisors, hire more advisors who are women; if you want more women in senior ranks, hire more female senior managers; and if you want more women as clients pursue more clients who are women.

How it works

  • When managers hear during training sessions that they need to hire more women but there are very few women in their environment, it tells them this isn’t really serious. But if they see women all around them, comfortably co-existing and contributing, then the training becomes more meaningful – if they don’t get on the ball they will fail where others have succeeded.
  • When advisors in training are told they need to serve women in a more respectful way, they dismiss it – they think they are doing a fine job because they can’t see what they are doing wrong. But when they get together with a group of female clients and hear and see that these women aren’t engaged, that they leave once their partner dies, that they don’t understand what they own, and don’t feel secure about their future – then these advisors become truly motivated to heed the training.

How to begin

For more information on how to get more women and train for more women – contact

Related: Before Bragging That You Treat Women the Same as Men, Consider This