Written By: Schane D. Coker, M.S., AFC®, FFC®
I can remember being the only black student in many of my classes throughout my educational journey, including the attainment of my master’s degree. By default, I was forced into holding the unwelcomed title of being the “token” representative for those that looked like me or were non-white, both inside and outside of the classroom. These experiences presented me a unique viewpoint of understanding why proper representation is so important. I found myself consistently saddled with having to speak up not only for myself but for those that had also been “othered” in the course of conversation. Always having to be prepared to defend myself forced me to build my muscle for advocation and being able to support those that found themselves in similar situations in and out of class. These experiences, while annoying when viewed in the most positive light, further developed a strong skillset that would eventually lead me into pursuing Financial Literacy and Education through Financial Counseling and advocating for those similar experiences that are looking for a change.
As research and discussions concerning diversity, inclusion, power, and privilege continue to solidify their place in Financial Literacy and Education, the awareness of issues that perpetuate inequalities should be a front and center priority. Representation within financial literacy and education provides clients with a direct message that they will be seen, heard, and helped because they are working with someone that looks like them and can understand their financial predicament. Representation is critical to the survival of any field or profession where human interaction is the basis of that profession’s functionality. This advances the goals of diversity and inclusion in our field as well as setting the stage for increased interest and participation from clients and practitioners that might not otherwise be attracted to financial literacy.
There is a power in working with someone that not only looks like you but can also understand your past (financial or otherwise) without being vocalized that is truly underrated. Harnessing and using this power responsibly and accordingly not only fills the gaps that are present whenever an organization wants to engage in true structural change, but it also presents opportunities to prevent future issues regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Clients that work with financial practitioners that look like them or share the same type of lived experiences will be more motivated in their own financial and behavioral change. This provides clients comfort in trying and failing or succeeding knowing that they can look to and lean on the financial practitioner for support and strength through intuitive understanding.
Representation also promotes Economic Integrity in clients, or the development to see their financial situation from a standpoint that they deserve and have the ability to live a life of financial freedom in their own terms. Viewing representation from a practitioner standpoint, working alongside practitioners from different backgrounds and racial minorities promotes self-retrospection and re-programming, dependent on your upbringing. Working with a Queer, Black female financial planner or a Native American male financial coach for a period of time can bring about enough exposure for a practitioner to re-think what they thought they knew about certain races, genders, sexual orientations, or any other type of characteristic that is deemed in the minority. It can also foster better communication and active listening when talking with another practitioner or client that represents another or multiple minority groups.
Striving for representation doesn’t just entail blanket representation (Asian female, Nicaraguan male). There needs to be a continuation of representation in depth as well as breadth of different minorities. Everyone deserves to be represented in the financial literacy landscape, and as such, we as the proprietors of financial literacy and education must remain vigilant and open to including others in the expansion of the field. Nothing in society stays the same, so whenever possible, we need to continue to reflect the changes we see in society while also being able to advocate for changes we want to see ourselves. If we are not actively engaging in the work to benefit the more vulnerable among us by viewing the world from their vantage point and advocating accordingly, then why are we doing anything at all?
Representation in the financial literacy and education space is critical because of the volumes it speaks without using words. Talking about inclusion and wanting to make clients and practitioners feel welcomed and comfortable to speak without pause may be the goal but the work lies in the continued efforts and actions (subtle and direct) that we must continue to participate in on the daily basis.