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What’s Missing From This Ad?

What’s Missing From This Ad?

Anybody see this full-page Wall Street Journal ad from investing firm Brown Brothers Harriman last week?*


“Most women feel their financial advisors don’t listen to them. We hear you.”

Well, OK. An old-school financial firm speaking to women. One that is so old school it actually has “Brothers” in its name. You got our attention.

So we headed on over to the Brown Brothers Harriman website to learn more. There we found a “Diversity and Inclusion” section, sub-headed “Diversity of our people is one of our greatest strengths.” Hard to disagree with that.

We clicked on the link to learn more and saw some bolder sub-headings that told us that “Diversity Shapes our Culture” and “Diversity Drives Business Results,” and that speak to a “Commitment to Progress.” So far, so fine.

Next step was to check in on how that commitment to progress is playing out, and how much their senior leadership reflects the diversity to which they are committed. You know, just wanting to make sure that they’re walking the walk, so to speak.

So we clicked on “The Partnership.” The subhead on the link was “A privileged way to do business.” (Hmmm. They really said “A privileged way to do business”???)

Nonetheless, we forged on and we found a listing of their partners and managing directors, their limited partners, and their managing directors.

I’m guessing you know where this is going …

We started counting.

We saw Carters and Radfords and Scotts and Kevins and Hamptons. We counted 32 partners, five of whom are women; that’s 16%. Of the 20 LPs, we counted one woman; that’s 5%. Of the 65 managing directors, 12 are women; that’s 18%.

Put another way, they have fewer women in senior leadership than their industry does. And their industry is hardly at the forefront of gender diversity.


Let me be clear. I’m almost certain these are well-meaning folks.

And I’m almost certain that they are working to advance women and likely have a women’s diversity group, and a mentoring program, and more women and people of color at their junior levels, and that they feel good that these efforts will lead to greater senior-level diversity over time.

I’m also willing to guess that they talk about how they don’t want to “lower the bar” to diversify their senior-level ranks in the meantime, but instead take the long-term view. If they’re like other financial service firms at which I’ve worked, they also talk about making sure anyone they promote is a “culture fit,” which further slows the pace of progress.

What they probably don’t spend much time discussing is how we’ve all been socialized to believe that money managers — and, really, all things money — are male, and so their lack of diversity doesn’t feel weird — or urgent — to them.

Of course, the part of this that’s so weird is that the research clearly indicates that women are BETTER money managers than men — and the research tells us that the bar has always been HIGHER for women and people of color to get into senior leadership. So driving to a more diverse leadership team more quickly won’t lower the bar; it will raise it.

Worth repeating: Driving to a more diverse leadership team more quickly won’t lower the bar; it will raise it.

(And it might help them recognize that the word “privileged” as a descriptor for their partnership is probably a truer reflection of their position than they meant for it to be.)

Perhaps a better use of the marketing efforts and money behind this ad — and a better means to improve the business world for these folks’ daughters (and their sons) — is to change first from the inside.

And to advertise to a group only when you can change the “them” in any ad (such as “Most women feel their financial advisors don’t listen to them”) to an “us.”

And for us as consumers, we must all decide what types of businesses we want to support: those at which both our sons and our daughters can be successful, or those whose actions speak louder than their ads.

PS: At Ellevest, 75% of our team identify as women and 42% are people of color.

*Frankly, we almost missed it, since we’re digital readers ourselves. A friend of Ellevest sent it over to us.

Read more here.


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