Michael Sheppard: Driving diversity in financial services│Ep. 23

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Just 3.5% of certified financial planners are black or Latino, a figure Michael Sheppard is trying to help change at Milwaukee-based IronwoodDrive Financial Group.

“When you have multiple people with different experiences and they have different visions and different insight, when you bring those together, you can really see more things than you can when you have your own specific tunnel view,” said Sheppard, founder and managing partner at IronwoodDrive.

He discussed his efforts to boost the diversity of the financial services industry with Beth Ridley of The Brimful Life on the latest episode of the BizTimes MKE Podcast.

“Financial services is a place where, it might be the last frontier for diversity, many other industries have really figured this out and taken significant strides,” he said. “Financial services is taking strides but it is a little bit slower than other industries and part of our vision is to help change that.”

Sheppard said the challenges in entering the industry include the highly regulated nature of financial services and the need to invest time and money for exams. He added it is also difficult for people of color and women to find someone to look up to.

To counteract some of the challenges, Sheppard offers employees the opportunity to have the firm cover 100% of the expenses for CFP exams.

“When your mission and your vision is to be diverse, you act in a way that attracts diverse talent, you develop in a way that attracts diverse talent and you seek diverse talent where diverse talent is, regardless of how few people,” Sheppard said.

He added that the financial services industry is moving away from one where people are judged “solely on your first look” to one that emphasizing where clients just one someone they trust and who understands them.

“You have to work at this and hold yourself accountable and be loud about it. There’s no secret that we want smart people and smart people can come in all forms, they don’t look one way,” he said.


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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.