Maybe it just comes with the territory of being in the HR and development business, but HR Daily Advisor always finds it interesting to hear about the career trajectory of corporate leaders. While some have had their current role in their sights since they were children, others seem to stumble into their fields completely by chance.
Wealth management firm Aspiriant’s new Chief People Officer, Summer Hammons, says she falls into this second category. Shortly after graduating college, she was offered an administrative assistant position with a nonprofit. The organization didn’t have an internal HR department, and Hammons gradually began taking on HR-related tasks. This ultimately turned into a full-time role, and Hammons never looked back.
As noted above, Hammons’s latest role is chief people officer. This is a new role that was created to align with Aspiriant’s core value of fostering a positive and inclusive environment for its people. The creation of this role and Hammons’s appointment support the firm’s plans to elevate the HR function and place its most senior HR role at the executive table.
Seeking Diversity in a Traditionally Homogeneous World
Aspiriant is a registered investment advisor (RIA), meaning it operates in the investment advising and wealth management business, one of a group of industries like law and venture capitalism, which have a reputation as being the virtually exclusive territory of older white men.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with employing older white men, but today’s top companies are constantly looking to increase their level of diversity to bring in employees representing different ages, ethnicities, and genders as part of their diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) strategies. In white-collar industries, it’s generally not enough for companies to sit back and wait for diversity to find them; they need to be proactive at cultivating diversity within their ranks and creating a culture of diversity. That’s exactly the type of work Hammons is tasked with doing in her new role.
Keeping Diversity at the Forefront
“We began our journey a few years ago with conversations at the highest level of the firm to ensure we had leadership buy-in, and then hired a consultant to provide an initial assessment,” says Hammons when describing the origins of the company’s recent efforts to boost diversity and inclusion (D&I). “This was a highly visible project that included focus groups and a firm-wide survey. We have learned so much along the way and have already implemented some of the ideas that will collectively begin to shift the culture and produce results. We are consistently having conversations around diversity, inclusion and belonging and embed it in everything we do.”
From the hiring process to training to setting up committees to decision-making, Hammons says the focus on DIB is something that is always at the forefront. “We encourage employees to be their authentic selves and to participate in the sharing of ideas and thoughts. Some of the things we have implemented include screening job descriptions for language bias and requiring diverse hiring teams.
“Managers are trained on how to conduct an inclusive meeting, and how to staff projects for diversity. Compensation is reviewed firmwide to ensure there are no pay inequities.”
This is the kind of approach companies with the greatest success in D&I efforts take. They treat D&I not just as nice-to-have, if-there’s-time-for-it, aspirational goals but as core, companywide initiatives, including the creation of C-level positions like chief people officer.
Employee Resource Groups
Hammons says Aspiriant has just started getting into the employee resource group (ERG) game, focusing initially on its younger employees. “We have a ‘Gen Now’ group as a means of including the perspectives of our younger/next generation into the firm’s strategy and initiatives and are in discussions about adding additional resource groups for women and others who are historically under-represented,” she says, adding that the company is looking to expand its ERG program in the near future.
Hammons also notes that Aspiriant has always had a collaborative environment that includes several committees on various topics to ensure the company is hearing from and incorporating ideas from a diverse employee population.
Standing Out in the Crowd
As noted earlier, industries like wealth management and investment advising often lack diversity relative to the broader economy. Aspiriant’s demonstrated commitment to DIB sets it apart in this industry.
“We believe that very few RIAs of any size have a stated DIB initiative, let alone have invested in it and implemented programs to support it,” says Hammons. “We are being very intentional, even including naming our initiative Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging: diversity alone is insufficient if people are not included and don’t feel as if they belong at the firm. Diversity is statistical; inclusion is organizational behavior; and belonging is how people feel. All three are necessary on this journey.”
DIB and Flexibility
When one thinks of financial professionals, one probably pictures suits and ties and long hours in the office. Companies and employees have traditionally worked hard to establish and maintain such an image, but it’s one that tends not to feel as inclusive as it could. In seeking to encourage DIB, Aspiriant has taken a more flexible approach.
“We provide many opportunities for inclusion, be it in the hiring process or on project teams,” says Hammons. “Our company policies are flexible in terms of when and where people work (even pre-pandemic) enabling working parents to spend time with their families as fits their own lives. We have generous pregnancy-related leave policies, including salary continuation. Holiday celebrations and leave policies are designed to be as inclusive as possible. Our revised dress code policy will specifically acknowledge that we respect and permit clothing, hair styles, and grooming that is consistent with the employee’s cultural norms.”
How do you recruit diverse talent? Hammons says that Aspiriant partners with schools; taps into its employees’ networks, offering referral bonuses; uses a diverse interview panel; and screens job descriptions/postings for any gendered words. “As we look to enhance our efforts in this area, we are looking into using diverse niche job boards, blocking out names on resumes to help avoid unconscious bias, and listing more of our inclusive benefits like parental leave,” she says.
Not There Yet
Interest in and commitment to DIB have risen dramatically in recent years, with varying levels of success among companies tackling these challenges. Those that take the right approach often have this in common: They recognize that DIB efforts aren’t a gimmick or PR stunt, and they aren’t a quick fix to the problems surrounding a lack of diversity.
“While we have taken steps to enhance our diversity, inclusion and belonging efforts, it is important to me that we are honest with ourselves in the sense that this is a work in progress and it truly is a marathon and not a sprint,” says Hammons.
It’s not a one-and-done initiative. In fact, Hammons stresses, “There isn’t really a destination, per se, at which we arrive and say, ‘we’re done’; it has to become part of the firm’s DNA and be constantly monitored, nurtured, and evolved.”