Today I notice that my alma mater Villanova University, located in my former neighborhood, just named nine new members to its law school professional staff and included a headshot photo of each. Only one of the nine is an Anglo-Saxon man. That new hire ratio is quite a difference from my own new client ratio. When I lived and worked there on the Main Line, I served a more diverse client base. This press release made me wonder how much my physical relocation has impacted the demographic makeup of the clients I serve.
I might appear to be an oddly-positioned person to comment on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues. But my experience appears to be both unique and extreme, and therefore worth sharing. After moving from a metropolitan, diversified, high income, and well-educated community, I now live and work in one of the nation’s most opposite communities. A recent article compared my New Jersey region as similar to the stereotype of Appalachia. I relocated to this rural shoreline area to develop a clean energy marina business alongside my accounting advisory practice. Some family and peers expressed disapproval of this relocation decision, but I did it anyway. The areas and industries where my business owner clients are overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon men. I now live in a township where all our elected officials are Anglo-Saxon men. I use the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ to further differentiate between published census data that typically uses the terms ‘white’ or ‘non-Hispanic white’. The Census Bureau says that my township is 91% white. Almost all of the people in elected or appointed positions of power who ultimately hold control over my business and financial future from the Governor to the Commissioner are Anglo-Saxon men. All of my past employees or contractors position applicants have been Anglo-Saxon men. All of the prospective qualified investors in my proposed clean energy marina business expansion, so far, are Anglo-Saxon men. Marine industry sources say that most of the public and investor interest in my new business comes from other more diverse demographic groups, so I am concerned about the mis-match.
The lack of DEI in the world around me is disturbing, but the lack of DEI in my own businesses disturbs me more. I regularly participate in South Jersey community outreach activities but with little tangible result so far. Earlier this summer I attended a fantastic two-day program run by Purpose Filled Solutions & Evolutions called “Paving the Way to Civility, Inclusion, Equity & Diversity”. I was also a guest speaker on personal finance issues on WMIZ Vineland Spanish language radio station with a translator. When I entered management of the marina more than a decade ago, one of the first measures I took was to eliminate a few shocking bigoted and discriminatory practices there. Almost immediately, our rural recreational site earned the nickname “little United Nations”. As far as I can see, our businesses are now fairly positioned to communicate that I welcome all people equally. I have only a few females, Hispanic and non-white accounting or tax clients. I estimate that collectively, they make up about 15% of my clients and 5% of my income. All of my clients who are not Anglo-Saxon men were accepted on some type of negotiated discounted payment arrangement because they raised the issue that they could not afford the minimal initial engagement fee, which is only $1,000. My peers and business advisers suggest that my willingness to make this exception on fee arrangements is a poor business practice. My simple observation of this seems to be an indictment of the lack of equity in itself!
There is cause for hope ahead. This coming month I will be working with clients on several projects that open opportunities to reach a more diverse audience. One is a multi-media educational project to serve the members of International Coaching Federation of New Jersey (https://icf-nj.org/). By working with other professional coaches who serve a more diverse client base, I hope to be called in when specific financial coaching is required. Another exciting project is establishment of an email newsletter list for green energy boating enthusiasts and investors in South Jersey location. I think that we are pointed in the right direction for reaching a more diverse audience, but tangible measurable business results may still be far away.