Authenticity & Diversity: Part 1 – Jamil Sanders
Today we open a multi-episode conversation into what diversity means in our personal and professional lives. For this episode, we welcome back Key Bank VP and Relationship Manager Jamil Sanders to hear his insights on authenticity and diversity. Early in the show, we chat about authentically presenting yourself within public and private spaces. We then dive into the challenges faced by minorities in predominantly white industries. As Jamil answers our questions, he highlights the importance of mental coaching, knowing your value, and learning from failure as key in helping minorities to navigate the workplace. After opening up about his own experiences as a black professional, we take a look at what we can all be doing to promote equal work environments. We wrap up the episode with a call to action that will help listeners understand diversity issues. Join us to learn more about authenticity and diversity from our illustrious guest.
Key Points From This Episode:
- Acting authentically in both public and private spaces.
- Challenges faced by minorities in predominantly white industries.
- Tips on how we overcome our limiting beliefs.
- Insights into showing your value without seeming arrogant.
- Why listening is key to building connections.
- Jamil’s process in dissecting and learning from his failure.
- Jamil shares some of his experiences of being a black financial advisor.
- How Jamil helps others to overcome the challenges of being in a white-dominated industry.
- Hear how recent news events and racial tensions have impacted Jamil’s life.
- What you can do to help resolve workplace inequity.
- We share this episode’s call to action on understanding diversity.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:22] AD: Welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. I hope you’ve enjoyed the last few episodes, where we have focused on discussing authenticity. For the next handful of episodes, we’re going to shift our focus into why diversity matters. Now I must admit, the events of 2020 and in particular, the death of George Floyd, opened my eyes to some of the racial issues that exist here in the US, but also abroad. Unfortunately, until this time, I’d put little thought or effort into understanding social equality and the importance of diversity.
Now, as a white male, I understand that I will never be able to fully appreciate the challenges that many others face. However, I do believe that I can do my part by embracing my own personal growth journey of gaining a deeper understanding of the issues at hand, and seeking to make an impact within my circle of influence.
With this said, we’re going to spend the next handful of episodes having an open dialogue around what diversity means and why it’s important in both our personal and professional lives. I hope that you’ll listen with an open mind and that our conversations will add value to you. We’re going to kick this off with a special two-part series, bringing back a previous guest. Jamil Sanders, a Vice President and Relationship Manager with Key Bank in Cleveland, Ohio. Over the past year, Jamil and I have built a friendship around discussing both the power of authenticity and why diversity matters. We’re excited to share some of our thoughts with you. I hope you all enjoy it.
[00:01:41] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:01:48] AD: Jamil. Welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m excited to have you back on the show again here.
[00:01:54] JS: Absolutely. I’m back with the cool kids, as they say.
[00:01:57] AD: Awesome. I’m going to talk to our listeners here for a minute. For anyone who’s been following the show for some time will know that Jamil was on last fall. We had an episode where we talked about achieving authenticity. Jamil and I spent time discussing about — what does it mean to be authentic and how to go about that and your own exploration. So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to that episode, I highly recommend you go back and listen to that.
For today’s topic, Jamil and I are going to dive into something that I think is equally important and equally impactful, but also, maybe difficult to talk about at times. Really, where authenticity can be a challenge for, I think, everyone but certainly some more than others. I’m really looking forward to this today.
The topic that Jamil and I really want to unpack is authenticity and diversity. I want to really tee this up to Jamil is, and we talked about this before we jumped on here. You’re a black man in a predominantly white industry, right? It is what it is, right. We all know that. Anyone listening here knows, Jamil is in wealth management. You know that you are certainly underrepresented within that industry. Then we were talking before we recorded, about being authentic and how ultimately, there’s always social norms, social pressure, especially in an industry such as yours that so much is based on the relationships and the networking. When you’re in these homogenous rooms that are filled with predominantly white males, in many cases, in general, you’re in an industry that maybe doesn’t have as greater representation from someone like yourself. That could certainly be a challenge to diversity.
As a white male who has absolutely zero experience in this, because I have no experience. I’ve only seen the world through my eyes. I would love to spend our time here today really digging into this and getting some of your thoughts and helping our listeners understand maybe some of the thought processes and challenges that you have gone through, in what you have seen in your own experience around this.
My first tee up to you here, and we talked about this a few moments ago, duality. Just having to be two types of people, right? Someone at work, versus someone at home, versus every different situation you’re in. Can you just start with sharing some of your general thoughts around that?
[00:04:19] JS: That’s a great starting point. When we think about duality, it’s a state of two sides. When you think about, as a professional, I got to be a certain way. I’m in front of a client, it’s a certain expectation that they may have of what an advisor looks like, or how an advisor should talk. What happens is, is that industry that probably has not had a lot of history when it comes to diversity. It can become challenging, because the way I communicate can be different, just because I am different. My experiences are different. The way I may talk is different. It’s helping the client understand that it’s okay. That’s the reason why I, like, diversity is really so important when you think about all industries and understanding the different cultural norms.
Also, to that duality aspect is who is Jamil? We talked about this in achieving authenticity, is who is Jamil and that personal time and space? Jamil is a laughing, joyous — I’m the person that you will love to hang around, because I am always down for a good laugh and having fun. But the challenges to the term duality is you’re living two lives. Why can’t that Jamil be the same throughout — in a continuous pattern, versus, “Hey, when I’m at work, when in front of clients, I got to be this way. When I’m at home, I got to be —” Where’s that common ground? Where’s that medium? I think that’s really where, when we think about achieving authenticity, that’s what we’re striving for, that middle ground. Not opposite sides. It’s more, “Hey, how can I reach the middle?” That’s the sweet spot, so to speak.
[00:05:51] AD: Jamil, I want to look at that for a minute. Middle ground. I think that’s a great way of looking at it. Talking authenticity in general, and taking any of the diversity out. It’s just authenticity in general. There has to be middle ground anytime you’re talking about this. Because authenticity is never a permission to just do whatever you want with blatant disregard for how others feel, think, or even some of the expectations that others might have.
Certainly, at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you have to be a certain way just because someone believes you should be. At the end of the day, there is always that middle ground. That’s always difficult, because we want to believe that it’s easy to say, “Well, it’s one way or the other, and it’s easy to understand and dissect.” The reality is, it is a spectrum, there is a middle ground and there is no perfect landing spot. I think it will always have some ebb and flow based on the conversations and where you’re at.
What I think is really important here for our listeners to think about and something, Jamil, I’d love to get your thoughts on, you mentioned how an advisor should be; the perception of how someone should be. This is a great example with the advisor. I think there’s many, many more applications in life, other than just this. Let’s just talk through this example. I’m in the process of looking for a financial advisor. I want someone that is going to help me think through my savings and retirement goals and make sure that I’m meeting my long-term objectives of financial freedom.
I am in the process of interviewing six advisors. I asked for introductions from people and all right, I use a search at local firms, whatever it might be. Ultimately, I’m interviewing six advisors. Given the structure and the makeup of this industry, the probability is you would be the only black man that I interview in that process. I have interviewed six people. Five of them have a lot of similarities to them, or maybe three or four of them have a lot of similarities. One or two have different similarities, but all different on their own. How do you bridge that? What have you seen in your career, where maybe you’ve seen some of that in some of the challenges around it?
[00:07:57] JS: Man, that is a great question. It’s a continuous process of improvement. So when you look at me — so the first thing I think, as an advisor, being a minority, the first thing I got to do, I got to fight off the biases that I can create within myself of saying, “Hey, I’m going to this opportunity, I am —” even though I’m not saying it, I am saying it subliminally like, “I’m not good enough, because I’m going into this dominated space. They’re going to choose this other person.” I almost discount myself initially, before even going into engage that potential client.
I think it’s really important, first, you got to establish the baseline of saying, “Hey, I am qualified. I can create a lot of value.” I think what is really important to your question is, how do you bridge the gap? I do. I believe most consumers, yes, it may not be enough exposure when it comes to dealing with a person of color, or minority provider, professional. I think, everyone is like, “Hey, whoever is the best person for the job, that’s who’s going to get hired.” I think everyone comes with that approach.
I think, really what is important is, as a minority advisor to bridge that gap is, first, coaching ourselves up to understand, “Hey, I am qualified.” Then also, to lighten up the world with who you are as a person, because that’s what they’re going to buy. You think about this, Alex. Anytime you transacted with anyone, it was a relationship component that drew you to that person. I mean, they probably could have technically been more expensive, but you felt so comfortable that, “Hey, this person, we connect, and they can get the job done. It’s good. Solution provided.”
I think it’s really important that you just got to one, coach yourself up. Really, it’s important bridging that gap is just leading with expertise, leading with education, leading with, “Hey, I’ve done the work to sit at this table. That I can do a really great job for Alex. I can do a great job for whoever that next person may be, regardless of color, because we work in the same pool. The market is the same. The planning tools are the same.” I hope that answers your question. I think that’s really important.
[00:09:58] AD: It does, Jamil, a lot. I really like the coaching ourselves up. Coaching and I’m speaking in the words you used there, “I am qualified,” or brighten up the world by being yourself. I think, at the end of the day, anytime we’re talking about authenticity, it certainly is a level of self-confidence. It’s a level of breaking through those limiting thoughts. We all have those beliefs in our head, whether we’re fully aware of them and that we process them or not, we all have something — the voice in the back of your head that’s saying, “Oh, you can’t do that,” or, “That’s not possible,” or, “You don’t have a chance at that.” Again, some voices are louder than others, but we all fight them in our own ways.
What I think is a really important point that you brought up and again, this is an area that I just simply don’t have any ability to relate to. But understanding that, in many times, someone in your shoes is entering into a market that you may already feel a step down. You may already have this preconceived notion that you are not worthy, you’re not meant to be there, it’s not supposed to — something you’re not supposed to be there. One, that’s all totally false. Those are totally false beliefs. I don’t want to discount the history of this country and some of the actions of individuals and people that have undoubtedly have occurred, that have helped drive to some of that thought pattern, some of those beliefs.
I do want to say, and really hone in on what you said, I think is so important. At the end of the day, you do have to coach yourself up. You have to look to find that confidence and know that you are qualified and that you’re meant to be there, because that’s what you’re here to do. That’s who you are. Gaining that confidence is a huge chunk of getting to that ability to really be authentic with who you are in general.
Let me ask then, you talk a little bit about the technical skills and demonstrating your relationship, because I think at the end of the day in your industry, in many service providers industries, the technical ability is important. At the same time, it’s a baseline that you have to do the job right, or you don’t really have a chance at doing the job. So much of it, it really does come down to the relationship side. Knowing who you’re working with, liking who you’re working with, having connectivity to a lot of the work that I do here with Connection Builders is all around that concept and that idea.
For you, where have you either been successful, or maybe you’ve also had challenges with demonstrating that and making sure others see that, without going overboard? You have to subtly build those relationships and demonstrate that you have the ability, while still again, really focusing on the relationship.
[00:12:36] JS: Man, that’s such a great question, Alex. Because that’s always one of those things that you’re constantly refining and working on. What’s the right balance of being humble enough that it doesn’t come off arrogant, but being confident enough that you want to make sure that whoever you’re trying to potentially bring on as a client, that they know like, “Hey, this person is confident. They’ve done their work.”
I always use this term, or this quote with myself is, ‘be prepared for the moment.’ It’s like, how do you keep yourself in a constant state of being prepared for the moment? It has been, I would say, earlier in my career, that was a challenge. I’m not trying to act as if I got it all perfected now, but it was definitely a challenge. Because it was like, “I could do so much great work for you. Why don’t you do it today?” It’s like, that’s not the right approach. That’s kind of like that desperate like, “Hey, calm down. Relax. Take a few breaths.” That’s the youthful part of the career.
Then as you get a little bit older, you start to learn a little bit about the emotional intelligence and soft skills, where now you’re being more aware of — the client is communicating, being more intentional and you’re listening to say, “Okay, is this the right time to ask that question? Or to position this solution? Or do I need to wait?” Maybe that’s a second movement. Really being aware of that emotional cadence is really important. Because the thing with wealth planning, or wealth management, it is a very emotional decision. Because you’re saying too, “Hey, I’m going to entrust this person with all my life’s work. I’m expecting them to do a great job. I’m counting on them to do a great job.”
You have to be sensitive to that. I think that’s where, early in my career, where you could provide a solution and you think, “Hey, this is a no brainer. Let’s do it.” Where really, you missed so much details and discovery, or maybe it was something that you said that wasn’t applicable to them. And that was the rub, where it’s like, “See, we’re not on the same page, just because of what you said, maybe prematurely.” You learn from those. That’s the beauty of life. Life is a great teacher, because you learn from some of those shortcomings and just saying, “Hey, how can I get better?”
Hopefully, this answered your question. Yeah, I think it’s just one of those continuous improvements. You take those failures. You hopefully refine them and then just get better at them.
[00:14:48] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders Podcast.
[00:14:58] AD: What do you do to find them? How do you see it? Life’s a great teacher. I love this saying. I say it to myself a lot. Experience is the best teacher, so long as you slow down and listen, and make sure you really see what that experience is trying to teach you. Is there anything that you can reflect on, or that you have reflected on in the past where you’re like, “Wow. Hey, I learned a lot, because of that interaction”?
[00:15:20] JS: Oh, man. First, I love that quote. Absolutely. You do got to slow down enough, because failure has always been an interesting topic. We talked about this, just in general in our conversations, where failure is villainized. It’s like, “Oh, stay away from failure.” Actually, run towards failure, but do it in a controlled manner, and learn something from failure.
I remember why I was so afraid to fail. When I failed, I would take it so hard. I’m telling you, Alex. It would take me out, man, I still hold on for missed opportunities from three years ago. I used to always say like, “Why am I still holding on to those things? Why are they still in my mind?” It’s because to your point, I didn’t slow down enough to learn from them, which actually probably could have called future failures, because I never stopped at that point that says, “Hey, what is it to be learned from this example, or this experience?”
To answer your question, so the first thing I do is I slow down. “Hey. Okay, why did the client not take to my solution? What did I miss?” That’s what I really do. I reverse engineer. I go through the process. Did I do this? Did I do that? Look where did I miss it? Because it’s a lot of steps we can miss, because we’re going so fast. Because life is moving faster than our mind really thinks. Because it’s like, “Okay, I’m going here. I’m hitting this point.” Then it’s like, “Oh, man. I missed this.”
First thing is, it’s to reverse engineer, where did the failure happen and what is to extract from that experience? Then, how do you make that weakness, or that failure never happen again? How do I mitigate it from future experiences? A big part of me for that is research and reading. I’ve become a better student, I would say, just reading constantly. Also, to your point, where Connection Builders and Branch Out, I learn a lot just from hearing other podcasters, where they share their thoughts on something that could be completely unrelated, but that could have been the key to unlock what was the maybe the key to that failure that you’re trying to solve for. Like, “Oh, man. That’s it. I missed it, because I didn’t do this, or that.”
I think it’s reverse engineering, research and then learning why, maybe, why that failure possibly happened. Then also, too, learning from others. That would be my three pillars of how I work through things.
[00:17:37] AD: I like that. The reading part, I want to share some of my thoughts. I’ve talked about this on other shows before. I, in the last couple years of my life, have really accelerated how much I read. In particular, since the COVID lockdowns have happened, I found myself with a lot more free time than I ever thought I would. I have accelerated my reading. It is very mind-opening, as you continue to look, to read, to learn more and more. To your exact point, there are a lot of things where whether it’s listening to another podcast, listening to another book. I do a lot more listening than I do actual reading. Or even, I read a lot of magazines. I try to keep up on current events as well.
It’s interesting to see where, all of a sudden, you’ll pull out a bit of information that helps you to understand something better, to understand an experience better and be like, “Wow, this is where I went wrong. Or here’s where there’s an opportunity for improvement. Here’s an area that I can take what might have been a challenge and turn it into something that is ultimately allowing me to perform better.” Tying this all back to authenticity, at the end of the day. Being authentic is being you. It’s being who you are. I’m a big believer in being the best version of you, be the best version of yourself. If you bring the best version of you every single day, then there’s not much more you can do. That is the best you can do.
If you are spending that time educating, reading, learning, gaining new knowledge, slowing down, trying to learn from past mistakes, I don’t think there is failure necessarily. There may be things that don’t succeed the way that you wanted them to. There may be challenges that you don’t overcome as you fully expect it to, and you have to go back to the drawing board.
Ultimately, if you’ve shown up and done your best, then that’s all you can do. That is I think, a huge component of authenticity. Even the insecurity aspect that we talked about in the beginning, a little bit of where some of your own thoughts get in your way. If you really can genuinely look in the mirror and say, “Hey, I’ve gotten up and done my best today. I put my best in. I’ve worked as hard as I can. I’m not perfect. I have room to improve, but I did my best today.” What more can you do, right?
[00:19:54] JS: Yeah. No. You said something that’s actually really good, too. Because when you think about it, it’s not resting in your failure, right? It’s opportunity. Because it’s technically, the only reason you failed is because you never encountered, maybe, that problem before. It’s a new experience. It’s one of those things you said as well, where I think about that was a really eye-opening point for me in my career was that if I fail being me, I’m okay with that. I’m 100% okay with that. If I was me, and I didn’t try to be anything else, I’m perfectly fine with that. I think that’s where we have a look in the marketplace, or we network. If two people don’t happen to come together, or collaborate beyond that initial engagement, it’s not a problem. It’s just, “Hey, we maybe wasn’t on the same wavelength,” which is perfectly fine.
If I miss a deal with a potential client, I’m perfectly fine with that. More importantly, I tell every client this. I say, “Hey, regardless if you’re coming to Key to be part of our family, or the next firm, Jamil wants to see you be successful.” If we always approach it that, we’re going to come to the clients that are for us, we’re going to come to the people, or we’re going to become connected to the people that are for us, the clients that are for us. It works out. In the end, it really does.
[00:21:03] AD: I agree completely with you on that. There’s a lot of challenges to that though, too, right? It’s easier said than done. One of my biggest experiences in learning and exploring personal growth, professional growth and authenticity is a key component of that. Typically, this stuff is deceptively easy to talk about and extremely hard to apply in practice on a daily continuous basis. We all know what we’re supposed to do and think and say, but it doesn’t always pull up, like —
[00:21:33] JS: Execution is – right.
[00:21:35] AD: Exactly. Execution is everything. Let’s talk through this a little bit. I want to pull this back to diversity for a minute, because you brought up a really good point. As a minority in this industry, in a underrepresented minority within this industry, what are some of the challenges you’ve had to face around your own confidence, or insecurities, or thought processes and what helped you overcome those? What maybe helped you see that? Maybe, even what do you still struggle with from time to time, right? I assume that there’s parts of it that maybe never go away.
[00:22:08] JS: As an advisor, you initially approach this industry — I remember from a kid, I used to read The Wall Street Journal. Don’t ask me how I got access to it. I had one. I remember just being like, “Oh, man.” I didn’t know what I was — I think, it was I saw on a TV show. It was businessmen. I’m like, “I want to be one of them.” You grow up. Initial career to go was like, “I’m going to go to New York, Wall Street. I want to be in the belly of the beast. I want to do it. That’s where I’m going. I’ll be the stockbroker.” Life got away, pivoted a little bit.
[00:22:37] AD: Like Wolf of Wall Street type? I can see.
[00:22:41] JS: If [inaudible 00:22:41] is listening, then be careful. No. Yeah. It was basically that. I wanted to prove. It was a proving ground for me. But I said, “You know what? I’m here in Cleveland. What’s the next best thing?” Then, I started to explore the private banking aspect. I say, “Hey, you know what? This is a way I could still fulfill that bucket and do those things.” I started to inquire and ask people and say, “Hey this is some interest that I have.” It was people that looked like me. Then they’re like, “Jamil, what are you talking about? It’s no space for us in that industry.” I’m like, “What do you mean? Who said that?”
Imagine, early in your career, everything that you’ve thought about, now they’re telling you, it’s no space for you. I’m like, “You know what?” For me, I’m hard headed. I can be honest. I got a thick skin and I’m hard headed. I said, “You know what? I’m going to push through.” I push through, I get to the summit. I’m here. I’m like, “Man, it is really underrepresented in this space.” How do you go through that journey of what you’re asking? How do you go through that journey now? All right, I’m here on a private client. Now hey, I got to start growing a practice. I got to start securing clients.
Then it’s like, two things have to happen. First, they have to acknowledge, “Hey, this person is not the typical advisor, because they’re a person of color, African-American.” Then it’s, “How do I know they qualify?” Then it’s the pedigree. Then you go through the educational exercise — “Where’d you go to school,” this, that and other. I would say, that is your biggest battle is being prepared for that moment, but at the same time, not getting in your own way. It’s still a challenge, in a sense of not so much of like you said, everyone has insecurities, so you got to coach yourself up.
I think what happens is, is that what happens when the times get tough? You naturally want to go to maybe someone that looks like you, because especially if they’re more senior, because then, you could channel in and pull from their experience of like, “Hey, I’m going through this rough patch. What did you do to get through that storm?” If you don’t got that representation as older than you, or someone that’s ran that same race, it’s tough, man. Because you can go to someone that maybe looks caucasian, let’s just say. Someone that looks caucasian or white and they can give you some really good advice. Maybe some of the cultural things that you have to battle through, that’s where having that extra experience inside of the firm can really pay some huge dividends.
I think, that’s really the bigger narrative is that it’s a commitment to change, like you say, a change in representation in industry. I think it’s so much more than that, because it’s some coaching up that has to happen. It’s some organizational support that has to happen. It’s so many layers to it. Yeah, I’m going to stop there, because I get long-winded. Yeah, that’s exactly it, though. I will tell you, man. It’s still an ongoing process. I don’t want to act like the work is done, because I’m still trying to help coach up maybe the next person that’s asking, or inquiring, “Hey, Jamil. How did you do it?” I got to be honest with them. Like, “Hey, it’s tough. But I hope it could get better.” With the work of both sides of the line as we speak.
[00:25:44] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:25:53] AD: Jamil, I appreciate a lot of what you shared there. I’m going to try to say back what I heard from you and point out what I think are some important parts here. I’m going to do my best here. Help me understand if I’m hitting this right. What I really hear you talking about is the value in the power of both mentors and your support system, when it really comes to your career success. I think, there’s this idea that many of us want to latch on to that hard work is what gets you somewhere.
Hard work is an ingredient. It’s absolutely a component that helps get you there. What I’ve learned and this is my own experience around it, the absolute hardest work I have to do every day is in my own head. My number one biggest critic is myself. The number one challenge I fight every day is my own internal thoughts, my own insecurities, the false beliefs that I have. I believe that to be true for many of us, that that is the hardest part of our day, especially as a professional, where you’ve gained some level of technical expertise and mastered that and you really get out there. It does all come back to again, knowing where to go, who to talk to, how to overcome some of those challenges and really, your own mental health, your emotional strength, all those things that really make you successful in what you do. Is that a fair summary of that value?
[00:27:12] JS: Yeah, absolutely. Correct. Yeah. Mental toughness. Absolutely. Yeah.
[00:27:16] AD: Mental toughness. I like that a lot. What I want to point out to our listeners and this is where I’m speaking only as a white male in this industry, where I don’t have experience around this. The mental toughness and knowing the importance of that, knowing the importance of having a mentor, or a support system and people around you that can say, “Hey. No, you’ve got this, or let me introduce you to this person that can help open this door here. You should have a conversation with so and so, because they can help you understand this career path, or overcome this challenge.”
You highlight a really good point, that both in your own personal community, there may be some thoughts of, “Hey, you can’t do that,” which that in its own can be very challenging in having that side. Also, as you said, you encounter some of the cultural differences that you’re inevitably going to hit in your career. Not having a mentor, or not having ready-wide access to a mentor that can help provide guidance around that, can make it that much more challenging. Is that a fair summary?
[00:28:22] JS: For sure. Absolutely. Yeah. No, that’s fair. Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:28:26] AD: I guess, a few questions. What have you done to overcome that? Where have you looked? What has helped you? Then, I think the second part of that question is, what are you going to do yourself in the future, to help others overcome that?
[00:28:40] JS: What I’ve done for myself — like I said, when you talk to the thoughts of mental toughness, that’s the first stage. You got to say, “Hey, I’m qualified.” You also got to allow your passion to override your fear. You have to say to yourself, “Hey, you know what? I get it. It may not be well-represented today, but someone has to keep fighting and keep championing the message of — hey, you know what? It’s okay. It is space for us.” That’s where they talk about that whole equity piece.
I don’t need preferential treatment. That’s not what I’m asking for. I’m just asking for fair equity. If all things are created equal, I got a fair shot, just as anyone else does. What I did for myself was, I actually diversified my mentorship, because it’s very important to do that. I made sure I had a black mentor and I had a caucasian, or white mentor. Because it gives you two really good perspectives, because I’m getting one side where it’s saying, “Hey, this is the journey that I’ve run.” I’m also getting the other side where they’re saying, “Hey, you know what? Maybe I can give you rocket fuel, or access to areas where you may not have.”
It may — could be, “Hey, I’m going to introduce you to my CPA, or my attorney, or my network of people.” That endorsement is so huge. Especially this term ally, that is so huge. When we think about what is so helpful, especially when we talk about integrating everyone into this global marketplace, is that if Alex has access that I don’t have, with Alex saying, “Hey, guys. I get it. This is our circle. Guess what, man? I really like this guy, Jamil. I want to introduce all of you to him.” Next, they’re like, well, they’re going to probably look at you a little bit like, “Hold on. What’s the reason? Why?” Then they’re going to be like, “Well, if he’s doing it, there’s got to be some purpose.”
Then now, when Jamil gets there, now this is where I got to be prepared for the moment to do two things. One, I will call it past the initial screening. Is he okay or not? Okay, we like him. Then the next piece is educating. “Hey, let me tell you about some of the challenges. This is where I’m trying to grow my practice.” Now it’s like, “Oh, he’s just like us.” Now, the whole silhouette of what maybe was what separated us, now it came down. Because it’s like, “You know what?” Because I think that’s really — that gets lost in translation of everything that is going on. I don’t understand. Okay. Well, we got to break down that barrier of not understanding and start figuring out, “Hey, okay. Help me understand and start seeking that education.”
To answer your question, that’s what I’m doing for myself. I found that to be very helpful for me in my career. Then as far as what I’m doing, I’m very passionate about mentoring. It’s funny. You go to serve on two boards, but I also do a lot of volunteering. Every time I come across a young person, the first thing, especially if they see me in a suit and tie, they’re like — now this is pre-pandemic, so I’m going to make sure I put that disclosure out there. Anytime you see a person in a suit, they’re like, “Oh, man. What are you doing?” I get excited. You got to get them fired up.
It’s like, “Hey, so first, you got to go to college. Promise me that, that you’ll go to college. Let me tell you after college, this is what you need to do. This is what I’ve done.” Then I walk them through my career journey. Then they’re like, “Man, I can’t do all that.” I’m like, “You can do that. You’re qualified to do all of that. You got the same potential and the same ability that I have. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.”
Now, you lit this. I will say, you lit the candle and you just got to keep fanning it. Keep letting it breathe. I think that’s really important for me is that creating more awareness around the industry to one, let people know it can be done. Let’s make no mistake, it’s going to be challenging. I don’t want to misrepresent that. Secondly, is when I have an opportunity, or platform to talk to, maybe leadership, you know I’m talking about these conversations and I’m sharing my perspective, because it’s important, because people don’t know.
It’s very easy to get that perspective, or to hear that from people you trust and you work with. Because it’s like, “Hey, I work with Jamil and I like Jamil. I didn’t know he was going through this.” Just real quickly, I look back at the Ahmaud Arbery situation. That was such an interesting time for me. Not that the other incidents wasn’t. The fact was, my son saw it. Because, remember, this is when a lockdown just happened. My son is seeing this like, “Why is this happening?” Now my wife’s crying, because she got a son? “What if this is our son, right? What if this potentially could happen?”
Now I got to address. Think about this too. At nine and seven-years-old, I got to address racism in America. That’s hard to fathom. It’s real. I have to make sure my colleagues understand, like I need everybody all hands on deck, talking to your people, talking to your network, talking to grandma, grandpa, your mom, dad, everyone. Just so they can understand that, “Hey, I did it. We may not be that bad, but guess what?” It is some confusion out there, so we need to make sure we’re educating as many people in our control as possible.
[00:33:50] AD: Jamil, all hands on deck. I love that. I love what you said there. This is, again, my journey in trying to understand some of the racial equality issues that we have in this country. I like that you use the word, the silhouette of what separates us. I think it’s very easy to forget that we only know the world through our own eyes and our own experiences and to understand that you and I are both humans. There’s nothing different. We’ve had tons of great conversations. We get along. There’s so much of us that is the same. I can also tell you that we probably grew up in different neighborhoods, with different environments and with different cultures and in things that it’s very easy to forget those differences are okay, and to celebrate and embrace those differences and rather, to look at those differences as something wrong, or just trying to stay away from it.
That’s the silhouette. That’s the “Hey, we’re different, because.” Then when you really remove all that and you start to say, “Well really, we’re not. We’re not that different.” We are very much the same. You start to break down those barriers. The key that you said there that’s important. I, me especially as a white male in this industry, I need to say, “Well, help me understand.” Help me, conversations like this, to understand some of the challenges you’re dealing with. Even this conversation has been an eye-opener for me of just thinking about the, again, your community support system, or finding a mentor, or the challenge that you as a working professional have to deal with.
I think back to a year ago when the lockdowns first started and you were dealing with this challenge. You’re trying to learn how to work from home, still do your job, serve your clients, be the professional you are. By the way, you have to deal with helping your children understand what’s going on in this country. You talk about all of this comes back to the emotional and mental toughness and being able to perform and build these relationships. Tell me that’s not draining you at home? Tell me that’s not having an impact on you, right?
[00:35:50] JS: Oh, man. Absolutely. You almost wonder how much more can a battery be full? Once you felt you was already on E, it’s just so much more pulling. It’s just, get out in the races, or get out in the battle. Because I think about when I talk with other people that don’t look like me, that’s white, or we just say not African-American. One thing I try to always do is I try to help them understand, is that I don’t need you to feel guilty, because you can’t control what happened; the history.
Now we can change the path forward. Because what happens is, is that I think a lot of times with guilt, it can go two ways. It can go where you feel angry like, “Hey, this is not my fault. Why are you mad, or why do I feel like I’m bearing what happened before me? I can’t control that.” We don’t want that emotion, because then, that’s where people dig their heels in. We also don’t want you to feel, you feel so sorry and so like, “Man, I can’t believe this — into just like this — like incapacity.” Like, “I don’t know where to start.” No, I need you right in the middle. We talk about the middle ground. I need you right in the middle. I want you to be empowered. I want you to feel like, “Hey, you know what? I’m going to do my part. I can’t control all that other noise, but I’m going to do my part.”
I want people to be empowered, because that’s what we need. This world needs a lot of love. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s the truth. It’s like, we have to love other people as human beings first. Let’s strip away color, all the other elements. Hey, I need to care about you as a person. I want to see Alex and his family be successful, healthy and very prosperous. As long as I got that, hey look, all that other stuff is noise. Yeah, you’re right. It’s about the just constant recharging.
[00:37:34] AD: I’m going to try to take us from the top of our conversation down and do a little bit of a recap and tie some of this together. I have some, I think some really good thoughts that came out of this. We started off talking today about authenticity and diversity, and really, how to overcome some of the challenges that you have faced as a black man in a predominantly white industry. You lead off with duality. There’s this balance, this middle ground where you have to be — you are a different person at home than you are at work, but you’re not a wildly different person. You’re not two totally different sides of the coin. You’re rather somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. It’s very important, I think, for all of us to understand.
Speaking specifically to this topic today, it comes with a lot of knowing that you should be there, having confidence that you’re supposed to be where you are, knowing it’s okay to be yourself and knowing, “I am qualified. I’m meant to be here.” Coaching yourself up. Making sure to really be yourself, to follow your passion and to brighten up other people’s worlds, by knowing that you’re there doing your best, being yourself.
Now, as we talked about a lot of success in this industry, your industry in particular, around wealth management, but also our listeners in general, in the professional services industry, it really does come down to soft skills. Emotional intelligence and knowing how to learn from that and grow those. We talked about some reading and learning and all these things that you can do to expand and really develop that skill set, which is critical to your success, but also critical to authenticity.
Now what I think is really interesting is we dove deeper in here. We got around some of the struggles that you’ve had with mentorship and with finding community support and things that you have faced purely, because of who you are and not by any obviously — not in a negative way. Just by the fact of the community that you are in, by who you are around. That does create additional challenges. It creates challenges to really achieve and accomplish that mental toughness, which is really what drives the success. What really allows people to excel is overcoming and building that mental toughness, which drives to your ability to be more successful and developing soft skills and the emotional intelligence and everything that comes down to building these relationships.
You said, let your passion override your fear. Let your passion really come out, override the fear, because that is what can help drive through that. Then more importantly, you talked about having diversity in your mentors, in finding people that bring diversity to you and say, “Hey, I want to understand different perspectives. I want to learn all their perspectives.” What that allows us all to do, we should all be looking for this. It really does help remove that, as you said, the silhouette of what separates us.
Helps us say, okay, well now I understand that we’re really not all that different. We have different experiences in life. We came from different places. At the end of the day, we’re all here trying the same thing. We’re all trying to do our best and we’re all trying to help other people. That really helped you understand and by gaining other perspectives, helps you open your mind up to that. That really does lead us to the end here of — how do we help resolve some of the disproportionate representation that exists in this industry as a whole.
This is just my opinion around it. It is exactly what you said, we need all hands on deck. Everyone has to be there. We have to have everyone going and doing their part. What does that really mean? That means educating yourself and talking to others and building relationships with others. And looking to experience and expose yourself to cultures and people that are different than you, and gain that other insight and perspective. Doing so with the right mind. Going in and saying, “Hey, Jamil. What are you challenged with? What are some of the challenges that you face?” Exactly as we’ve talked about on the show here today.
I can just feel it in myself right now. My mind’s been opened to some things. There’s some different perspectives that I’ve had alone. I hope everyone listening is having some of those same experiences through that. This is really, everyone has to do their part. Everyone has to look for opportunities to gain that perspective, gain that different insight. Then at the end of the day, we’ve said this a few times, you’re supposed to be here, you’re worthy, you’re meant to be here. This is what you’re here for. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Simple as that, and continue to push for it. Do your best every day.
Also, if you’re in a position to help others, encourage others, look to be a mentor to others. Again, bringing this back to find diversity in both your mentorship and your mentor and your mentee. Look for opportunities to bring that diversity in, because at the end of the day, that is what helps open all of our eyes up and really helps us gain a better understanding of those around us. I think that’s fundamentally important for relationship building, for getting to know other people and frankly, just making the world a much better place to be in general.
[00:42:29] JS: Absolutely.
[00:42:30] AD: Jamil, anything to add there?
[00:42:32] JS: You summed it up. I mean, well done. Especially when you say, you talk about diversity from mentee to mentors. Even the way we transact business. I’m not saying, “Hey, go proactively seek out a person of color to do something. If you do have a need, or you’re looking for a solution, give it a try. Just say, “Hey, I want to get — I want to make sure I’m diversifying how I transact business. This is a way I can then truly impact on an economic level someone’s family and so on.”
No, no. I think that’s it. It’s just like you said, I appreciate Branch Out and just far as — just more so the content creation, because it’s conversations that a lot of people are thinking and it makes it in a very approachable way. No. Well done.
[00:43:15] AD: Thank you. Well, I’m very fortunate to be able to host this and put the show out there. They’re fun conversations. You and I have had over the last six months, we had a great time getting to know each other and lots of great conversations. These are always fun. As always, we’re going to end our episode today with a call to action.
My call to action to listeners this week is, in the next week, I want you to identify an opportunity, where you can put yourself in a diverse situation, where you can interact with people that are outside of your typical comfort zone. And that are outside of maybe the traditional circles you spend time and look to really find that diversity in the next seven days. Find time. Get it on the calendar. I understand, actually making that meeting happen in that next seven days might be a challenge, but I do encourage you to get it on the calendar. Go find ways. Go look for opportunities to really expand your perspective and get to know other people for who they are. Jamil for our listeners, how can they get ahold of you?
[00:44:11] JS: Yeah, absolutely. You can find me on LinkedIn. That’s the easiest way. Just send a friend request, especially like you said, that seven-day challenge. I’ll be more than gladly to help be an accountability partner. Yeah, LinkedIn is the easiest way. Feel free to reach out.
[00:44:26] AD: Awesome. Thank you so much for being out here today, Jamil. I look forward to talking.
[00:44:30] JS: Absolutely. Thanks for the opportunity, Alex.
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