How do you turn your passion and work experience into a profession that you love? Those new to the profession might assume that becoming a financial planner is always our end goal, the only career path we can take. Our guest on the latest episode of YAFPNW disproves that.

Sonya Dreizler is a financial services consultant, author, and impact investing speaker. In our latest episode of YAFPNW, Sonya discusses how she got into sustainable and impact investing, what they mean, and what inspired her Do Better series in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

How Sonya entered the profession

You could say that financial planning and socially responsible investing (SRI) runs in Sonya’s blood. Her father was one of the first financial planners to pair planning with SRI. That’s how Sonya was first introduced to the profession, though her first foray into a career didn’t begin until the post dotcom bust era. 

After working as an executive assistant for an independent broker dealer and RIA, Sonya learned quickly on the job, moving onward and upward to Chief Operating Officer. Eventually, she became the CEO. On her way to CEO, Sonya tried her hand at financial planning and advising.

“I was okay at it. I just didn’t really enjoy it,” said Sonya. “I really enjoyed working inside the business…helping financial advisors and financial services companies was a much better fit for my skills than serving individual clients.”

Perhaps that’s how Sonya found and developed her niche in sustainable investing and impacting investing

ESG and SRI: what sustainable investing means

ESG investing, or environmental, social, and governance investing, is a type of business data that helps investment managers create portfolios that are aligned with a particular set of values. SRI, on the other hand, is a type of investing that expresses values: ethical, moral, or religious standpoints. 

Sustainable investing is kind of a general catchall term, “a bit of a mixed bag” as Sonya put it, and often used interchangeably with impact investing. One key takeaway to remember: impact investing is investing in companies with the intention to do good. And yes, the majority of investors are interested in at least learning about sustainable investing options, and possibly very interested in actually doing it.

However, it’s up to advisors to give their clients those sustainable investment options and educate them on what they mean.

“You would not expect most clients to come in and ask for say a 10% allocation to emerging markets, right?” said Sonya. “It’s really important for advisors to be educated and understand the space so that they can educate their clients as well. Partly so that another advisor doesn’t do that first.” 

The importance of sharing stories

Along with a lifelong passion for impact investing, Sonya is also passionate about working towards inclusiveness in financial services. Her Do Better Series is a collection of real stories from real women about their experiences with sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Why stories?

“The closest we can get to experiences without experiencing them is stories, hearing about other people’s experiences, right?” said Sonya. “I thought how can I share that insight with men, so that they’ll be more aware and understanding and be able to be better, more active allies?”

That’s how Do Better began. Sonya put the call out for stories and got 40 stories in the span of a day. Stories about sexual harassment, discrimination, physical assault, pay discrimination, and so on. A common thread in these stories, sadly, was how women reported these incidents to HR or managers that were not receptive, or simply didn’t listen. 

Before we jump into action and try to fix these issues, Sonya explained that simply listening is an important step that often gets overlooked. They’re uncomfortable and can be hard to read, but in reality, they aren’t just “stories.” They’re experiences that someone has lived through. If it’s hard to read, imagine what it was like living through it.

“I really wanted men to just sit with the stories and read them, respect the stories, listen to women, and not jump to solutions,” said Sonya. “Because we can’t find appropriate solutions until we understand the problem and until we’re listening well to the people that it’s impacted the most.”

Sonya had even more to share about Do Better and sustainable investing in this episode. Don’t miss out, and tune in to the full episode from this week!

 

 

 

What You’ll Learn:

  • Sonya’s path from executive assistant to CEO
  • What ESG stands for
  • What SRI means
  • Are clients asking for sustainable investing options?
  • What inspired Sonya’s Do Better Series
  • Themes in the Do Better stories
  • The importance of listening (and not jumping to solutions)
  • Shutting down inappropriate behavior professionally

 

Show Notes:

In this episode of YAFPNW, Hannah Moore, CFP®, and Sonya Dreizler, discuss:

 

Want to keep up with Sonya on social media? Check out her LinkedIn, Facebook page, and Twitter at @SonyaDreizler.

 

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Show Transcript

Episode Transcript


Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today Sonya. So, you have, there’s so many interesting things about your story and what we’re going to be diving into from the Do Better Series that you just started, to looking at the ESG space, and really understanding what is that, and what is the future of ESG?

Hannah: But before we dive into all of that, I’m curious on what your background is, or your career path within financial planning. So, how did you first get introduced into financial services or financial planning?

Sonya: Well how I first got introduced is I grew up with it. My dad is a financial planner still, and he was one of the first financial planners to pair financial planning with socially responsible investing. I come from a line of ESG and SRI family. That’s how I first got introduced, but how I first started actually working in it, I was living in San Francisco with my now husband, then boyfriend, and we had moved here from LA.

Sonya: It was not a good time to be looking for a job in San Francisco. It was post dotcom bust, so there wasn’t a lot of work here in my field of choice, which was copy editing. I took an interview with the CEO of a broker dealer, an independent broker dealer and RIA, based here in San Francisco. I interviewed to be her executive assistant and we hit it off immediately.

Sonya: She offered me a job on the spot and I told her, I was very honest, I said, “This sounds like a good job but I really want to be honest with you, this is not the field I see myself working in.” She asked me to make a one year commitment, and I did. I made a one year commitment and I was there for 13 years. She was a really great first boss for me, because she really kind of threw me into the deep end, and expected me to learn on the job, but also provided me with the resources I needed to do that learning.

Sonya: One of the first things she had me do was be the liaison for performance reporting between our 40 advisors, most of whom were financial planners, as well as investment advisors, be the liaison for performance reporting between them, and admin back office services. If you know anything about performance recording, you know it’s very complicated and was even 15-20 years ago, maybe more so, because of less user control over the information in the reporting.

Sonya: I really didn’t know anything about financial services except for basic personal finance stuff. I didn’t know about investments. Hearing somebody tell me the dividend, the spin off or the division of the equity, all these different terms, I didn’t know them, I was constantly on Investopedia trying to figure things out, learning, and asking my boss for help and I did all right. I learned really quickly on the job, and I did well there and maybe because of my lack of financial services experience, had a different perspective and I could see where there were challenges and was able to redesign some of our processes.

Sonya: I think once my boss saw me do that one time, she thought, “Let’s have her do that again” so she ended up over many years, moving me from project to project, and department to department, redesigning our processes and procedures, making things run more efficiently and so it was a very natural fit when maybe, I think maybe seven years in, she made me our chief operating officer. I did that for about five years and then when the CEO, it was a different CEO by then, but when he left unexpectedly for another role, I threw my hat in the ring when the board was doing an executive search for that CEO role.

Sonya: And I got it. It was just this amazing … It was amazing to sit in the same seat as the person who hired me, and be the CEO at the same firm where I had started many years before, as an executive assistant. And that sounds very lovely and like a very straight path in retrospect, but it leaves off all the other things I tried and wasn’t good at, or maybe I should better say I just didn’t enjoy, including actually being a financial planner.

Sonya: During, oh gosh, I don’t remember exactly at what point in that career path I decided I would try, that maybe I should be a financial planner and financial advisor. There were a lot of good opportunities for me to partner with some of our advisors, and so I went to … San Francisco State had a college of extended learning certificate program for financial planning, so I took that program. And then sat for the CFP exam and got my CFP certification. I was so proud of my three letters and the little R with the circle on my business card.

Sonya: And I tried it, and I was okay at it. I just didn’t really enjoy it. I didn’t really enjoy the planning or any of the client facing stuff, and being able to do that at the same time as my other job where I was chief operating officer for broker dealer and RIA, I could sort of compare the two and see that I really enjoyed working inside the business, helping financial advisors and financial services companies was a much better fit for my skills than serving individual clients.

Hannah: So often we talk about career paths within financial planning and we assume that the end goal is to be a financial planner, and that’s not always the case. I think this is such a neat story of how you can still have an impact and you can still have a lot of influence but not be like the true traditional financial planner.

Sonya: Yeah. And just recently, actually a couple of months ago, I gave up my CFP designation. I kept it for years, even though I wasn’t planning. I thought that the education was really good, having the credentials, especially as a young woman in financial services where I often wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt that I was as smart or capable as my male counterparts, having those credentials on my business card was very helpful.

Sonya: I only recently decided to give up the designation and it was kind of a sad but watershed moment for me. I actually wrote about it for Financial Planning Magazine, and you can find it, it’s on their website. Including-

Hannah: We’ll have it in the show notes.

Sonya: Great. Including a picture of me studying for the exam in 2008 with one of my cats on my study materials.

Hannah: It’s almost this rite of passage, of having to put all that work into that one exam, isn’t it?

Sonya: Oh, my gosh. Yes. And it was so hard, and I was studying during … I took the exam November of 2008, so the cram course that I took in the months before, the week long cram course was during one of the most volatile markets. It was in October of 2008 and it was really an extraordinary time to be thinking about a career in financial services.

Hannah: So, I know you for being in that ESG/SRI space, so when you were at the broker dealer and from the executive assistant to the CEO, was that where you really learned about that and got exposure to that, or what’s really sparked your interest in that?

Sonya: Of course I knew about it because that’s what my dad did. And then a good portion of the advisors at our firm did that. It was one of our niches as a firm. So yes, I learned about it there, and had a developed network in the space, because of my work at that firm. And it’s one of the things that kept me in financial services, even though financial services was not the field that I thought I would be in. Being able to challenge the way that finance is supposed to be, and influence the direction and thinking of mainstream financial services for social and environmental good is a piece of what kept me in and what appealed to me. Kept me interested in being in financial services and driving change through pretty traditional field.

Hannah: So tell me, what is ESG and SRI? What is this for somebody who’s never heard of this before?

Sonya: Yeah. That’s a good question. Financial services in general has a huge vocabulary hurdle for anybody to learn. Sustainable, ESG, impact, SRI investing, we have additional vocabulary hurdles. I’m going to try to be brief here and explain big picture, and then what each of those terms mean, because although you’ve heard me just throw them all around, and many people do throw them all around, including media conflates all of those things. They’re actually different types of investing and they’re different … They have different meanings. It’s helpful to know them.

Sonya: So, big picture, sustainable investing matches or creates portfolios that are aligned with a particular set of values. Those might be environmental values or social values or religious values, or keeping your money invested in your community type values. There’s a wide range and there’s a wide range of possibilities of investing towards those values. Some, the terminology that we use, ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance.

Sonya: It’s a type of data. I want to make that clear, because often we hear about an ESG fund and we assume that it’s maybe fossil fuel free, or has an environmental focus, but really what it means is that the manager of that fund is using this type of data. They may be using it in a variety of different ways. ESG data is just business data in each of the three categories, environmental, social, and governance.

Sonya: That data is used in tandem with traditional financial metrics to more deeply understand the risks and opportunities an investable company faces. Often ESG data is referred to as non-balance sheet risk, but as an unexpected incident happens, it can often move that non-balance sheet risk straight onto the balance sheet, right? The key takeaway here is to remember that ESG is data, and how each manager uses that data varies really widely, which is why for example, you could see Exxon in an ESG fund.

Sonya: Because if the manager, the investment manager is looking for companies with the best say governance data in each category, including oil and gas, Exxon might be the top pick. Conversely, another manager could use ESG data to screen out all oil and gas companies. It’s just another form of data and I want people to really remember that.

Sonya: SRI is a different term. It usually stands for socially responsible investing. Some people have changed that and now it stands for new words, which I won’t get into, because I think that’s even more confusing. But typically the key takeaway where ESG is data, is that SRI expresses values. So, interestingly, SRI has historical roots in investing and divesting according to religious values, and it grew to include expressing secular values as well.

Sonya: Historically, through divesting, choosing not to own or selling existing ownership. Many SRI funds pair divesting and investing with shareholder engagement in which groups of shareholders converse with company management about advancing social or environmental good within the company, or the communities affected by the company’s business, and then they can make that conversation more public through the shareholder voting process.

Sonya: ESG data can inform SRI portfolios. A portfolio manager can use ESG data to create a portfolio that matches the values that the fund expresses, or a client expresses, if it’s for a personalized portfolio. There’s a couple other terms, impact investing. I’ll go through these more quickly. The key takeaway is that impact investing is investing in companies with intention to do good.

Sonya: Although often you’ll see impact investing used as a catchall term for everything. And sustainable investing is a very widely used term and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Because it can mean any combination of the terms I’ve already said, and it’s the term that Morningstar uses in its rating system, so the word is very common in the mutual fund and ETF lexicon.

Sonya: Now, there’s a whole secondary list of vocabulary terms like green investing, local investing, opportunity zones, and I don’t want to get into those here. But I do have a ton of resources. I write and speak on this topic to try to provide clarity regularly and I’m happy to point you to both videos and written descriptions of these for your show notes in case that’s helpful.

Hannah: Yep. No, that would be great. We’d love to share that. So, it’s really interesting, looking at this idea of … I mean, as financial planners, investing is a big piece of a lot of our clients’ financial plan, and their financial picture. This idea of doing good with the investments, are you finding that that is something that clients are asking for more and more?

Sonya: That’s a good question. Surveys show that clients do want investments that match their values, or sustainable investments. The interesting thing about the surveys, though, for example, the most recent … Morgan Stanley does a study every two years and the 2019 version said that 85% of all investors surveyed, not just coastal millennial women or whatever the stereotype type is for this type of investing, all investors are interested in at least learning more about sustainable investing and maybe very interested in investing in it.

Sonya: That’s up 10 percentage points. It was 75% in 2017. So, yes, they are interested, but the really key piece of those studies is that before the interviewer conducts the study, they explain to the investor or client what sustainable investing is and what it means. So, once clients and investors are educated, and they understand that this is available, yes, they’re interested, and yes, they want it. But not all clients know about it or understand the terminology.

Sonya: It’s really up to the advisors to explain that this is an option available to clients, and to educate them. An example I give often is that you would not expect most clients to come in and ask for say a 10% allocation to emerging markets, right? It’s financial planners and financial advisors’ job to educate the client on what their options are, and what’s the best fit for their financial needs. This falls in that category as well.

Sonya: It’s really important for advisors to be educated and understand the space so that they can educate their clients as well. Partly so that another advisor doesn’t do that first.

Hannah: As you were talking about the different SRIs and ESG, the angles that people can take on that, do you find that for every client it’s like a customized approach of like different funds and different intention behind that? Or, do you find that practices have the same … I have my portfolio that I use with clients, do you find that it’s customized on the client level or the advisor level, or maybe both?

Sonya: It depends. Of course, like all investing. And like all investing, the more money a client has to invest, the easier it is to customize. The advice I give to advisors is don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here, though. Just because you can’t customize to the exact values of your client, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a lot closer and you can’t get a lot closer than say a traditional fund.

Sonya: And even just having that conversation with the client about what their values are, and trying to get closer to them with their portfolio can be a deeply meaningful conversation, and a way to connect with your clients about more than just finances. And financial planners are pretty good at having these conversations already, because they’re usually talking about large personal goals and things that are more than just money.

Sonya: And this is another one of those conversations that can help you connect more deeply with your clients. And if your clients are more deeply connected to their investments themselves, there is some data that shows that those clients are less likely to sell in a volatile market. They’re more likely to stay the course, stay invested.

Hannah: I definitely grew up with the diversification and you invest in all the different companies for the diversification, and how do you talk to an advisor who has really, has that mentality of you just invest in everything, and then you get the returns?

Sonya: Really, you’re never going to be investing in every single company, right? You’re going to make some choices about where you’re investing, country wise, or cap wise. This is just another one of those decisions. Many of the ESG and SRI versions of index funds have a pretty … They track pretty closely to the index, so that is possible if that is your theory of investing. Although, there’s certainly a school of thought in the SRI community that to … For the, I would say maybe more, the people looking for more dramatic change, there’s a school of thought that says that how can we make dramatic change while we’re tracking to an index that’s reflective of a broken economy?

Hannah: Interesting.

Sonya: Yeah. In fact, I did a whole series last year, before I wrote the Do Better Series, I was working on a series where I interviewed leaders in the sustainable investing space about whether or not you can have impact while indexing. There’s a six part series on my website that was a fascinating series to write. Because people feel very strongly on one side or the other. I got both perspectives that yes, absolutely, and no, absolutely not.

Hannah: I think there’s sometimes this assumption that to invest with SRI or ESG means that you’re going to be giving up returns. Do you find that that’s true? Like, is there a trade off on that? Or, is that just a misnomer?

Sonya: No, not anymore. There’s many studies showing that you’re not giving up returns, that in fact, in this most recent market downturn, the sustainable funds have on average outperformed their traditional peers. I’m happy to send you the research I read about that. Jon Hale of Morningstar writes about this frequently, on his blog and has all the data to back that up.

Hannah: It’s just so exciting, especially talking to new planners who are getting in, this is such a great place to even be able to differentiate yourself and able to be articulate, and bring value to the firm that you’re working in.

Sonya: Yeah, absolutely. And then back to the performance question, I think one of the things that’s really important here to reiterate, I know I said it already, is that having clients that are connected to their portfolios around more than just how much money it’s making. When they’re connected around values it tends to either, I don’t know if it attracts or produces more resilient investors, but there’s definitely a correlation between folks invested with their values and their willingness to stay when the market is volatile, to stay invested while the market is volatile.

Sonya: I would argue that resilience is more important than any fund’s performance numbers, right? Because you know as a planner, the most important thing to an individual client’s portfolio performance is when they invested, when they bought, when they sold, right? And when they hopefully didn’t sell at the bottom because they were panicked, and then buy at the top when they felt better about it, right?

Sonya: We’ve seen clients do that before and that is far more important to meeting an individual’s financial goals, and their individual portfolio return. It’s more important than the performance of any underlying fund, right?

Hannah: Yeah, yep. We’ll definitely link out to your website in the show notes if somebody’s interested or wanting to know more. We’ll definitely connect them to the resources that you have on that.

Sonya: Yeah, and if they’re wanting to learn more, I have a newsletter that I write every week. It’s not salesy, it’s just educational, and it’s a really great way for people who want to take 5-10 minutes every week to learn a little bit more about this type of investing, and if they’re listening to a podcast, they’re probably on their phone, so the easiest way to sign up from your phone is to text the word solutions to 33777. And also there’s links on my website.

Hannah: One of the things where you really got a lot of attention in this past year was your Do Better Series, and so I’m curious, I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about what that is, but what inspired you to do this series?

Sonya: Yeah, I can put my finger on when I really started to think about the article that led to the series, but I think it goes back further than that. I think I’ve been … My entire career has led to this. I’ve seen and experienced and known about from friends the harassment, assault, and discrimination that women in financial services face.

Sonya: So there’s a couple things that I can kind of pinpoint that are more specific than that. And the first is a little more than a year ago, I was reading an article and I had read maybe a couple of articles that showed the statistics about harassment and assault in the industry, and discrimination, and it showed the statistics about perception and men’s perception of the prevalence of harassment, and women’s perception of the prevalence of harassment and discrimination.

Sonya: And the delta between those two was huge. For example, one of the studies or the surveys that I cite, I think in the introduction to the series, showed that only 4% of men thought it was a big problem. Right? It’s a much bigger problem than that, and if these surveys … I started thinking, if these surveys come out every year or so, and women keep saying that this is a big problem, and men presumably read that, and don’t believe them, because the stats about men are not increasing, they are not thinking that the prevalence is high because women say it’s high.

Sonya: So, the reason I think that is is because most men are not … They are not harassing women, they’re not directly discriminating, and they’re not witnessing it, so there’s no way for them to know, and so that’s one piece of it. And then on the women’s side, I know that when I get together with women who’ve worked in the field for at least a few years, we often, like immediately start sharing stories of pay discrimination or harassment, or make sure not to get into the elevator with that guy, he’s dangerous, those kinds of things.

Sonya: We share them with each other, because we don’t share them publicly because it’s dangerous for us. It can be dangerous for our career, it can be dangerous for our personal safety, for a number of reasons. We do not share these stories publicly. So, I started thinking, will no wonder the men’s ideas about harassment don’t change. They don’t know what’s happening and statistics don’t change people’s mind. Experiences do.

Sonya: The closest we can get to experiences without experiencing them is stories, hearing about other people’s experiences, right? I thought how can I share that insight with men, so that they’ll be more aware and understanding and be able to be better, more active allies? I set out to write an article about why we don’t share our stories, right? The personal and professional and safety reasons that we do not share, and so I’ve put out a call on social media and in my newsletter, asking if anybody wanted to share … If any women wanted to share their stories of harassment, assault, or discrimination with me, and that I would share them anonymously on their behalf.

Sonya: I wanted to get another one or two stories to write my article, so the article wouldn’t be about me but be about the industry more generally. And so expecting one or two stories, I put this call out and I got 40 stories in I think 24 hours. I realized there was something much more here to do and I didn’t know at first what to do to be honest. I was really overwhelmed, actually, talking, reading, and talking to the women that called me and writing down their stories.

Sonya: The stories were scary and terrible and so I had to just kind of take it in at first, and after sitting with those stories for a while, and seeing the themes in those stories, that’s when I decided to make it into something bigger, into a series.

Hannah: And so this Do Better Series, what are the themes that you found in the stories that people were sharing?

Sonya: Yeah, so I did find some themes and I split the first … So there’s an introduction to the series and then the following six articles are shared by theme. I don’t have them in front of me, but off the top of my head I can think of a few at least. The number one thing that came up over and over was conferences, and how they can be quite dangerous for women, and both harassment, physical assault, and discrimination. They all happen there.

Sonya: That was one theme. Another theme was that women who have another intersecting identity have this sort of compounded harassment that can also be about race or their sexual orientation, or their immigration status, or for example, there’s one from a military spouse. They’re dealing with not just the gender discrimination but a secondary form of discrimination which makes it even harder to address and harder … You cannot untangle them, they go together. That’s two of them.

Sonya: Pay discrimination, of course. And promotion discrimination. Another one was physical harassment in the office. There’s a lot of weird stories of men touching women and smelling their hair. That was a common one that was kind of creepy and weird. A variety of those things that happens, just things that maybe one incident seems annoying, but maybe small if you hear the story of just one incident. But it’s not small, and often women are dealing with more than one incident. It compounds over time and it’s exhausting.

Sonya: Another theme was it not being helpful to actually report or the women reporting and not finding that HR or management was receptive or even listening. And then the last theme, which was really sad, was the leaving. Women leaving firms because they just didn’t feel safe or listened to. And to have to pause your career or take a different route in your career, not because you choose to, but because you’re forced to, is a huge detriment to a long term career, having to start over not of your choice is a huge challenge and it’s one that we don’t really talk about very much.

Sonya: I suspect, I didn’t write about this, but I suspect there’s a lot of stories of women who opted out completely. Didn’t just go to a different firm, or didn’t just start their own firm, but they just decided not to continue working in an industry that doesn’t respect them. And when we think about the numbers of close to equal amount of women entering financial services, and very, very few at the top, you can see why.

Hannah: I hear things like that, and I immediately want to jump to, “How do we fix it? What are the solutions?” But I don’t think often enough we just sit and really listen to the stories, and really sit with that, and be like, “What is it really telling us?” So I’m curious, as you got these stories, I mean, number one, that’s a heavy burden to bear, of having so many people tell you these types of stories. I’m curious, what did you learn or what was that experience like? Or, what did you learn about our industry or profession?

Sonya: Thank you for acknowledging that. It was very hard, actually. I didn’t anticipate that, partly because I didn’t think I’d get so many stories. And I wasn’t prepared for it, and I had to … I don’t know. Prepare part way through when I realized that it was harder on me than I expected. I got some help which, like some sort of mental focusing and resetting and framing help for myself which was really good, and I took a break at one point.

Sonya: I just said, “I’m not going to be putting these out every week. I cannot. It’s too much.” And one of the things I noticed was exactly what you said, that people want to jump to solutions. They just want to fix it. That was very common, and in fact, I included solutions in each article, or not solutions really, but next steps, things to think about. I did that partly because we are such a solutions focused industry, but my main ask was not even to read those solutions, was just read the stories. Sit with the stories.

Sonya: I know they’re uncomfortable, I know they’re hard to read, I read them all, and they aren’t just stories. They’re somebody’s lived experience, so if you think it’s hard to read them, try living with them, right? And I really wanted men to just sit with the stories and read them, respect the stories, listen to women, and not jump to solutions. Because we can’t find appropriate solutions until we understand the problem and until we’re listening well to the people that it’s impacted the most.

Sonya: Yes, there are solutions, and now in 2020, I’m ready to talk about some of those solutions. But initially and for people who haven’t read the series yet, I just ask them to read the series with an open mind and listen to women.

Hannah: We talk a lot about how do we engage with clients, how do we do that well? The first step to doing it is exquisite listening, and it’s that we don’t jump to solutions, it’s that you actually sit and respect the story and respect the person who’s telling it enough to just sit there and truly listen to it. I love it that you made that distinction about the jumping to solutions. There are solutions, there are things that we can be doing, but there’s something really important about just sitting and thinking about, and really acknowledging what so many women and women and minorities, what they’re experiencing on a day-to-day basis.

Sonya: Absolutely. Just to touch on that, I do know that this affects men, too. Many of the same issues especially affect men of color, and it’s something that I think about and I try to listen to, and it’s not what I wrote about, but I didn’t choose not to write about that, because I don’t … How should I say? I chose to focus on a small subject matter. In fact, one that I thought would be much smaller, and then became this big thing.

Sonya: I think that we do need to listen specifically to people of color, as well. Because some of these same issues come up and if I had infinite time and ability and network to make that happen, I would probably write the same, have the same call to action and do a similar series and explore some of the themes that I found. I hope that that comes out, maybe somebody else will write it, or maybe I can do it eventually.

Sonya: But it’s important and I want to be clear that this is not in service to white women. This is in service to all women, and women of color especially feel these problems even more deeply. And in more challenging ways than we often do as white women, and I suspect that men of color are encountering some of those same problems, but I just didn’t explore that in this series.

Hannah: One of the things that you said that stood out to me, again, this is clearly I’m bringing my story into this, but conferences where have been such an influential part of my career in helping me make connections and helping me to level up my career and develop skills, and so I’m curious, I mean … I’m curious what you would say to the young woman who’s listening to this and she’s like, “Oh, my goodness, well should I not go to conferences now?” I’m curious what your thoughts would be to them.

Sonya: Totally. I’m with you. I love you conferences. I’m a people person, part of my career is speaking which is made possible by conferences. I wouldn’t be able to have that business line if it weren’t for conferences, and I love it, I love being there, I love meeting with people, and I acknowledge that there are real challenges. And in the last few months, the industry has actually made huge corrective steps collectively.

Sonya: So, I do see promise towards change there, and it will happen slower than I want it to, but it is happening. And I would say yeah, go to the conferences but be aware that these type of things happen, that men will likely hit on you, and maybe worse. You can read the series to see some of the examples. It’s heartbreaking. Go, but be aware, and I wish that we could just go and show up professionally and not have to think about our safety or bodily autonomy, and just be able to think about our work and meeting people and expanding our network and the things that you’re supposed to go to a conference for.

Sonya: But realistically, I do want to be honest with young women who are going to a conference that this is something that you should be at least cognizant of, so that you can make an informed decision. And then make informed actions when you’re there, and one of the things that I like to give women is a line that they can use, if things start to feel a little weird. Like, if you’re at a networking event and a professional starts hitting on you, which is unfortunately quite common, you can say something like, “Hey, let’s keep it professional, okay?”

Sonya: And not, in a kind of light tone that does not … Which doesn’t invite further conversation or an argument or somebody who’s angry at you. It’s a really tough thing to navigate, right? Because you don’t want to alienate people that could be good for your work and you don’t want to embarrass yourself, or them. But you need to protect your own wellbeing and so that’s a nice term to have handy.

Sonya: And then for men, if they see something happening, men or women, if they see something happening to somebody else, there’s a phrase they can use if they see something happening that’s not right. You can say, “Hey, we don’t do that here” which kind of shuts down the action in a friendly way. Use the term we, so that it’s friendly and we’re talking about our collective space and just set the expectation that’s not right here. We don’t do that here, and let’s keep it professional are two terms that I ask people to practice before they go to a conference so that they’re ready to use them if they have to, and hopefully they don’t have to use them.

Sonya: Because more and more conferences are addressing this from the main stage, putting in codes of conduct with enforcement provisions, and talking about it. I think the conferences that are willing to speak about the issue from the main stage are the ones who will find less and less prevalence of assault and harassment happening in their venues.

Hannah: Yeah. I mean, just because I’m connected with FPA. I know they’ve had that, I think they’re in year two or three of building out a full policy around this.

Sonya: Yes. I remember I saw a picture of … I wasn’t there, but I think I saw a picture of the first time they put up a sign right at the front that said what was not tolerated.

Hannah: Yep, and now it’s just really neat to seeing how that can be integrated throughout the conference, of knowing who to contact, how to get a hold of it, where to go. All of that’s being communicated which I think it’s just comforting to know. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you did, there’s something there.

Sonya: Yeah, and I did think that … Hopefully you never need it, and you know what to do if it happens. It’s really important, and I think from the talking about it publicly, from a stage, having signs, is a deterrent and a reminder for folks who may not realize that that is unacceptable behavior at a professional event.

Hannah: I think it’s so great. You had made the point earlier about how most people, like most men aren’t doing this.

Sonya: No. But there are some that are serial harassers, and most men do not fall in that category. They can be part of the solution.

Hannah: So what if we see it happening to somebody?

Sonya: Yeah, if you see something happening, for example at a conference, that’s where that phrase can be really helpful, the, “We don’t do that here.” Then, follow-up with the person who was being harassed afterwards and see if she or possibly he wants to report the incident, and then help them in whatever way possible. Do that follow-up privately, and if they do or don’t want to report, respect their decision. They may have reasons that they don’t want to report, so don’t force it on them, because you think that that’s what they should do.

Hannah: Can you report an incident, or does that person need to be the one reporting it?

Sonya: I don’t know. I think it probably depends on the company, or on the conference. But I suppose that if you witness something that’s clearly a violation of a conduct, you could report it. I would suggest checking in with the affected person, though. It’s hard to say what they want without talking to them first. More listening is probably my biggest request.

Sonya: Then in the office, if you are a man with a counterpart in a similar role, you can offer to chat about salaries. I know that in the United States we have this thing where we don’t talk about money and we don’t talk about what we earn, but men can be a real advocate here to make sure that women are earning the same dollar amount for the same work, by sharing salary information. As long as that’s not prohibited at your company. It is prohibited in some companies, which is kind of wild.

Sonya: For racial biases, I would try to do more learning and listening here. There’s, gosh, 2050 TrailBlazers is another podcast to listen to that is very informative on this aspect, especially for financial planners, and on the website for that podcast, there’s a resources page that has really good guides to do more listening. And if you’re white, my favorite book to learn more and start being able to listen better and talk more fluently about race is called So You Want To Talk About Race. Gosh.

Sonya: One other individual behavior thing is I know we’re talking about individual behavior, not systemic behavior, but asking to change the system if you work for a big company, you can check your company’s employment agreements and ask management to consider for example, ending forced arbitration for harassment, discrimination, and assault. That is one way to facilitate a more equitable workplace, or if you’re a supervisor or a manager, and an employee reports that harassment, assault, or discrimination, take the report seriously and act accordingly.

Hannah: Well, one thing that I just love about your story is you saw a problem and you just did something about it. Like, nobody asked you to do this, nobody gave you permission, you just saw a problem and you saw the statistics and you’re like, “Something’s not right here, what can I do about it?” And you just did it, so I thank you for doing that. It truly is inspiring to hear people like you who are really impacting change, even though you weren’t necessarily asked to do it. You just saw a need and did it.

Sonya: Oh, well thank you. I’m grateful to be able to use my voice in this way.

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