THE DEEPER I SETTLE into semi-retirement, the more I miss something that I didn’t realize was important to me: working with and learning from a diverse group of people. I was lucky that, for most of my four-decade career, I was employed by profit-making and nonprofit organizations that were committed to workforce diversity.
I miss how easy it was to be challenged and changed by difference. Sometimes, it was on pop culture. Sometimes, it was on something much more important. During my career, I learned how many things I take for granted as a white male: walking alone safely at night, driving without worrying about random police stops, making more for doing the same work, and the respect I got at work even when others deserved more.
Awareness of our society’s diversity seems especially absent from the world of finance. I was reminded of this recently when I spoke to a woman of color who was in her mid-30s. She’s beginning to learn about investing and financial planning. She was, of course, confused by the financial alphabet soup that we forget is a foreign language to most.
As I explained Roths, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, ETFs, ESG, cryptocurrencies and mutual funds, I was struck once again by how hard it can be for young people and people of color to break through the cultural, gender and class biases that often come with financial advice. Not everybody grew up with parents who invested in the stock market or even had a bank account. Not everybody today has the chance to own a home or has a job with employee benefits.
As a relatively old, white, heterosexual male, it’s easy to forget that any experience, advice or wisdom I bring has been filtered through my racial, cultural and gender lenses. I often assume that even those without a college degree can climb the corporate ladder or craft their own financial plan. But in most cases, that simply isn’t true. That’s why it’s so important to regularly interact with and learn from people different from me.
During my career, one of the best things I was taught was the platinum rule. Most of us had the golden rule drilled into us from a young age: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
By contrast, the platinum rule says: “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” It’s a small but powerful distinction. To help others, I first need to understand where they’re coming from. It’s especially critical when they’re different from me. As always, platinum is more valuable than gold.