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The wealth management industry has started to put an increasing amount of resources towards helping their diverse employees feel comfortable and safe.Maria_Castellanos/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

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When Cindy Marques first entered Canada’s wealth management industry in 2016, the first thing she noticed was its homogeneity.

“It was all a bunch of older white men who didn’t represent who I was or who I wanted to serve,” says Ms. Marques, now a certified financial planner and chief executive officer of Money MakeCents Inc. in Toronto.

As a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community – she identifies as queer and describes the financial services industry’s culture as “very stiff professionalism.”

During her training with a major national brokerage, “they would tell me not to give up too much of myself, not to connect too much with the client, as if dishing out a personal detail somehow makes the advisor seem less competent and professional.”

That culture makes it more difficult for advisors who are members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community to share that part of their identity, Mr. Marques says. Evidence of that resistance came earlier this year when through her capacity as a board member of the Toronto chapter of the Financial Advisors Association of Canada – known as Advocis – she asked other members of the community to share their stories and experiences.

“I was speaking to a room of 200 people at the time and got nothing, crickets,” Mr. Marques says. “Nobody reached out after the fact either.”

Steve Deacon, executive consultant at Deacon Wealth Management with IG Private Wealth Management in North Bay, Ont., says “statistically speaking” there may have been 15 to 20 people in that room who are part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but they might not have been comfortable raising their hands.

Still, having been in the industry since 2009 as an openly gay man with a husband and two adopted sons, Mr. Deacon says the wealth management space “is changing dramatically” in its attitude toward the community compared to when he first started.

“Back then, it was very much a straight white male setup where if a couple came in, you would speak to the man, or if a man came in alone [wearing] a ring, you would ask about his wife,” he says. “That’s all changing now.”

For example, Mr. Deacon’s firm established a diversity and inclusion committee in 2017, of which he is a member. He says some organizations put together committees like that “just to be able to tell people that they have one, but here we really do the work we’ve been talking about.”

“We still go to the conferences and see a sea of gray hair on top of straight, white male heads, but it’s important that we share our stories the best that we can and then people can make their own decisions,” he says.

Where progress has been made

Examples of his philosophy having a positive impact go back to his earliest days as an advisor when, in 2009, he was required to attend a training program in Winnipeg.

“They used to do this thing where if you were there with another person, they would bunk you together, so I had to tell them that while I didn’t have any issues with that, I also wasn’t going to go into the closet for a couple of weeks,” Mr. Deacon says.

“It was shortly thereafter that the company changed its policy so people travelling for training purposes could have single rooms.”

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Toronto-based 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy group Egale Canada, says advisors need to weigh the risks of being “out” in the workplace more broadly.

“Is it safe for them to be out? They have to ask themselves if they’re going to lose a client if they do come out,” Mr. Kennedy says. “There are some organizations that are trying really hard to address this and then there are others that are lagging.”

Meanwhile, the wealth management industry has started to put an increasing amount of resources toward helping their diverse employees feel comfortable and safe. TD Wealth, for example, has made gender identity and expression training mandatory for employees for the past five years, and earlier this year, the firm’s parent bank expanded its employee health benefits to cover surrogacy and adoption-related expenses.

The issue that remains, Mr. Deacon says, is “the assumptions.”

“I drive a Dodge Ram pickup truck and used to even have a couple of baby seats in the back and I have a wedding ring on,” he says. “So, almost every single [onboarding] meeting [with clients] I’ve had was a coming out experience – and it still is.”

There are also assumptions that, according to Ms. Marques, “the other advisors make that any reference to your sexual orientation is being inappropriate.”

“It isn’t as if we are talking about specific sexual exploits. It is a detail about myself that is part of my identity,” Ms. Marques says. “If I’m talking to a straight male advisor and they mention their wife, I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, that is inappropriate.’”

One way Mr. Deacon says the industry can make progress toward addressing those issues is for people in positions like his to help set an example.

“If you’re in the top-performing level of your company, it’s all the more important to be visible,” he says.

“Then, if someone is just starting out, they have someone they can look to and say there is someone who is consistently knocking the doors out and is a member of the LGBTQ community. That makes a real difference without ever having to discuss being gay.”

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