Building Bridges Through Diversity
by Tamara E. Holmes
A financial advisor with investment firm Edward Jones, Emily Pitts noticed that the industry had few people of color. That led her to wonder what Edward Jones could do better to attract and retain a more diverse workforce. The question sparked a new passion and, eventually, a career change. “I had a desire to help others and bring others into the firm,” she says.
After overseeing the marketing of credit cards and mortgage services, Pitts shifted gears and today is the leader of Edward Jones’ inclusion and diversity efforts. She spoke with Diversity Woman about her passion for inclusion.
Diversity Woman: Pricewaterhouse-Coopers CEO Tim Ryan challenged CEOs to sign a pledge to open dialogue around D&I. You pushed for Edward Jones to sign the pledge. Why?
Emily Pitts: Dialogue helps to remove barriers and misunderstandings. It also helps individuals realize that we are probably more similar than we are different. Signing the pledge created a forum and a catalyst to have a real dialogue to address challenges. It has also enabled our entire workforce to have their voices heard because ultimately people want to be part of the solution. More than a thousand of our home office associates and leaders have been part of these dialogues.
DW: You created a cross-cultural development program for financial advisors. How has it contributed to Edward Jones’ D&I initiatives?
EP: As a financial advisor of color, I realized that I had encountered some nuances when building my business. This industry has historically been dominated by white males, and some clients aren’t accustomed to seeing diversity in this space. I wanted a tool to support financial advisors who are people of color in building their businesses cross-culturally. It’s a two-day program, and it has helped to improve the success rate as well as the retention of financial advisors who are people of color. With diverse financial advisors, we could also help more clients with their finances and better serve them because we have a workforce that’s representative of a cross-cultural market.
DW: Edward Jones received a perfect score of 100 percent on the 2018 Corporate Equality Index. What are some of the reasons for this?
EP: Edward Jones welcomes and appreciates all of our clients and all of our associates, so we’ve done things such as ensure that our medical benefits are inclusive, and that we have a business resource group for our home office associates that is supportive of the LGBT+ community. We also have inclusive marketing materials, we use inclusive language, and we have a nondiscrimination policy.
DW: You developed Edward Jones’ first Women’s Leadership Forum and Minority Leadership Program. What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining women in leadership positions?
EP: Most leaders were advocated for by someone, and sometimes women don’t have those natural relationships with the right people to advocate for them. We need to have better sponsorship and mentorship opportunities. We as women also need not to doubt ourselves and our ability to be in leadership, and to go for it.
DW: What’s one of the biggest challenges diversity leaders face?
EP: Creating a sense of urgency. Most organizations understand now that diversity is a business imperative, but many people think we have plenty of time to focus on it. However, you have to make it a priority so that you’re not trying to play catch-up. You have to nurture relationships and put strategies in place.