Enhancing a Culture of Inclusion

Democratizing, Investing, and Operating: A Conversation with Lisa Kidd Hunt of Charles Schwab

In the next episode of SIFMA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Podcast series, SIFMA’s EVP and Head of DE&I, Cheryl Crispen sits down with Charles Schwab Managing Director, Head of International Services, Lisa Kidd Hunt to discuss the ways that Charles Schwab is still creating a more inclusive environment 50 years later with its original vision to bring more people from Main Street into the world of investing.

They identify how Schwab remains as committed as ever to that innovation of democratizing, investing, and operating the firm in an inclusive manner for their clients and employees. A couple of key areas where program enhancements have been made over the last 5 years include talent acquisition and recruitment, formal mentorship programs and employee resource groups. They also highlight a new DE&I initiative that provides financial assistance and career opportunities to underrepresented students majoring in financial planning at seven partner universities across the United States.

For more information on fostering and expanding workforce, client, and supplier diversity equity and inclusion, please visit www.sifma.org/diversity.


Edited for clarity

Cheryl Crispen: Thank you for joining us for the latest episode in SIFMA’s DEI podcast series. I’m Cheryl Crispen, Executive Vice President and Head of DEI at SIFMA. Today I’m joined by Lisa Hunt, Managing Director and Head of International Services at Charles Schwab. Lisa currently serves on SIFMA’s Board of Directors and was the Chair of SIFMA’s Board in 2018. Today we’ll be talking about Charles Schwab’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and its efforts to recruit and retain diverse colleagues in the financial services industry. Welcome Lisa.

Lisa Hunt: Thank you, Cheryl.

Cheryl Crispen: Before we dive into our discussion, could you share a bit about your specific career path and what sparked your passion and commitment to advancing DE&I at Schwab?

Lisa Hunt: I’ve been in this industry for almost 40 years, 32 of which I’ve had the privilege of working at Charles Schwab, but I always wanted a career in financial services. I came out of college and worked at a couple of other firms. And at the time in the mid to late 80s, not a lot of women in finance on Wall Street, and it was great to come to Charles Schwab and find a community that not only encouraged women to come on board and grow a career in finance but also helping them to achieve really the many career goals that they might have. I’ve really tried to pay it forward and continue in that spirit throughout my career at Schwab and within financial services in general. I think inclusivity, diversity in the workplace and especially in financial services, and diversity in the clients that we serve are just so critical for all our firms.

Cheryl Crispen: Lisa, that’s terrific, and it’s actually a very nice segway into the next topic I’d like to touch on. At SIFMA and at Schwab, we know that prioritizing DE&I isn’t just sort of the right thing to do, but it’s really a business imperative. How has Schwab prioritized DE&I from that business standpoint with a client-centered focus? We’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Lisa Hunt: Charles Schwab was founded in 1973. We’re celebrating our 50th year since the founding of our company. When Chuck founded it, his mission and goal were really to help all people across all levels of income, every stage of life, gender, ethnicity, whatever, to be able to achieve their financial goals. He really looked at accessibility and inclusivity of investing as a key priority and goal for not only our firm, but really the country, and I think that has permeated beyond just the work that we do in innovating and driving a great experience for our clients, but also in how we approach developing talent, acquiring talent, and helping people grow as well. I agree wholeheartedly it really is certainly a business imperative, but it’s just so much more for our firms. We talk about at Schwab really seeing things through clients’ eyes, and we really make every strategic decision based on what that would mean for a client. There are a few things that I might highlight that we do that really underscore our approach and how this translates, especially in the universe around DE&I.

First, we think about education and financial literacy, which is so important to anyone’s financial success, and we really create and curate all our financial education content to be able to provide that level of education. But then we also curate it in a way that can attach and help certain communities. Whether it’s women who invest, have very different mindsets and different approaches than say men would, and we really cater some of our educational materials to respect those differences or the LGBTQ+ community. We’ll hold specific and customized education sessions that might really speak to some of the unique challenges around benefits and other things that other communities might not have.

We have created an environment where we have an option for our clients to identify gender pronouns and verification security questions. We’ve adjusted to recognize that there are all types of diverse families and to be a bit more inclusive, even around account security. From a marketing perspective, we’ve also developed brand guidelines that support diversity and inclusion in our communications, including inclusive language guidance and an expanded universe representation and photo stock library. We really try to approach it through every communication channel, both internally and with our clients, and any way that you might connect with Schwab.

We’ve also focused on accessibility, not just making investing accessible for individuals, but making sure that when we’re thinking about digital or the web or even coming into an office, we can ensure our products and online experiences can be accessed by people with varying physical and cognitive abilities. Really recognizing that people engage, communicate in a variety of different ways and we want to ensure that we’re being inclusive there.

We really look at education holistically, not just about the world of investing. We do things, for instance, as you know, we custody for thousands of registered investment advisors, many of whom are small to medium-sized companies, not big firms with large HR departments. We really work to educate our network of RIAs on D&I best practices so that they can amplify progress across the industry, really looking at building an inclusive firm culture. We have workshops built in a whole host of things that can work together.

Cheryl Crispen: Lisa, that’s a terrific overview with that client-centered focus. Maybe now turning a little bit internally to Schwab, we all know, and we talk about the commitment to improving D&I within our firms, whether it be through better recruitment strategies or training or striving really for better levels of diversity in a senior leadership role. What are some of the things that Charles Schwab is doing to create a more inclusive environment to help accomplish those diversity goals?

Lisa Hunt: Yes, I shared Chuck’s original vision was to bring more people from Main Street into the world of investing so that they could achieve the same type of success as those who previously were really engaging in our capital markets and the great growth of the American entrepreneur spirit here in the U.S. 50 years later, we remain as committed as ever to that vision of really democratizing, investing, and operating our firm in as an inclusive manner as possible for our clients, but also around our employees. We work to continually enhance our culture of inclusion where every single Schwabie, as we call ourselves, employee that come to work every day at Schwab, our Schwabies can bring their whole selves to work and be the very best that they can. Our employees are at the core of everything we do. They are the voice and face of Schwab in every single community that we touch. We really work hard to ensure that we create an engaging and inclusive environment for people to grow, but also to do their best work, and be as authentic as they possibly can.

I can highlight a couple of key areas where we have really enhanced, I think, over the last five-plus years, some of our programs. First, I’ll start with the most important part, which is talent acquisition or hiring and recruiting. Our hiring processes really seek to improve accessibility into our communities. We work hard to always ensure that we are presenting a diverse slate of candidates for every job where possible. We really look very hard with a sharp pencil at our interviewing process to ensure we’re reducing any bias, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, and continuing to use bias language detection tools to ensure our job descriptions, our recruiting communications, everything that we do is reflective of the diverse candidate pools that we really want to interact.

We’ve done some great work just recently in some of the new social media pieces that we’re putting out for our recruiting. We also leverage a third-party sort of organizations that we sponsor and work directly with to help us recruit diverse talent to Schwab and we really leverage them to help us source sort of diverse candidates. Examples of a couple of firms that we work with are Matheson, Togo Foundation and Hiring Our Heroes. We really tap into their large network of very specific communities to help us source better resumes and create a much more diverse slate. We have partnered with a number of historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic universities- our Hispanic serving institutions, really leveraging our existing employees that are alums from these universities as we expand our presence on those campuses and really engage much more deeply in career fairs and career panels.

One of the things that I think has been a real win for us at Schwab is the diverse mentorship program that we launched back in 2021. It is a formal mentoring program for our director-level colleagues from underrepresented communities to really increase the strength of our diverse leadership bench and really engagement overall. We have dedicated mentors. I’m one of them from our senior and executive management teams, and it gives us an opportunity to really work directly with some of these director-level employees, employees of color focusing on leadership development to prepare them for career growth. For me personally, it has been an unbelievable opportunity to meet people that frankly, I don’t know that I would have crossed paths with within my work and my area of focus. We’re a very large company now and I have made great connections, and deep friendships, and gives me an opportunity to really follow and help develop future leaders from a very diverse pool. So, I’m excited about that.

I’ll just briefly mention our employee resource groups. I know many firms leverage this same important part of their employee engagement programs, but we have several employee resource groups. These are employee-driven. They provide communities of support for our diverse employees, and they share characteristics or life experiences with each other. Over a third of our employees. are members of at least one ERG. And we have really grown these programs over the years, and it’s created an incredible network. We’re in multiple locations around the globe, but even in the United States, we are very dispersed, and it really allows a lot of our employees to connect on so many levels. To give you just an example, we’ve had I think 900 events just in 2022, very focused, drives a lot of great employee engagement, but also creates a little bit different sense of community outside of just the community of our company. Those are just a few of the areas that I think to highlight just how we continue to ensure that we are doing everything we can at Schwab to attract and retain a diverse set of employees.

Cheryl Crispen: Great, thank you for that. A lot of very productive work is going on at the firm. Maybe just changing gears slightly, although still all within the same thinking. Common reality, Lisa, is that we do have several individuals at all levels, but at senior levels of our firms who want to prioritize DE&I and continue to make progress in the space, but perhaps might feel either unqualified or quite frankly, uncomfortable discussing it, and just maybe don’t know where to start and get involved and be committed to advancing DE&I. How can we sort of nudge those individuals or give them the tools that they need, such as research or data or other internal resources, sort of to help them spark change and be a leader within their own areas?

Lisa Hunt: It is not an easy task to put together a robust program that focuses on this. For some firms, as you shared, they don’t have the resources or they just are not as comfortable as they would like to be, and so I think a great place to start for any firm is with the industry or trade organizations that they work with. As you shared, I’m a board member of this great organization of SIFMA, which has done a wonderful job with the DE&I work. There’s a board-level committee. There are other committees within the organization, and it’s just a great resource to be able to tap into to either kickstart the work that you and your firm want to do or frankly, to enhance the work that you’re already doing.

Things like your resource data, resume database, and the work that you’re doing with the historically black colleges and universities to engage in partnerships and create an environment where individuals in some of these communities look at a career in financial services as a viable option are important. And for many companies, that’s just hard to do and execute individually.

My first and probably best recommendation would be to tap into the great work that SIFMA is doing. You’re listening to this podcast because you’re aware of some of the work. There are tremendous resources that are there to help you. As you shared at the very beginning, Cheryl, this is becoming a huge business imperative and firms that are slow or choose to not focus on this are going to begin to miss out on business opportunities. It takes a long time for an individual to really connect, not only with an industry and a career but certainly with a firm. If we all aspire to have more diverse leaders at the top of our firms, we need to start early. It’s not going to happen overnight.

Cheryl Crispen: I completely agree with that, Lisa. And then for our listening audience, Lisa mentioned SIFMA’s ‘SIFMA Invest! program,’ which is a resume bank and job board that goes directly out to historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. The purpose of that is for us as part of the overarching industry trade association to provide education and career opportunities to a broad base of diverse college students so that they get excited and interested in exploring career opportunities in financial services. Lisa, thank you for mentioning that and I wanted to make sure our listening audience had a little bit more information on that. Looking toward the future, where do you see sort of the next opportunities to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the industry?

Lisa Hunt: Well, one of the areas that Schwab is particularly focused on right now is disability, and we continue to expand our efforts there. In fact, we have a neurodiversity at work program which focuses on attracting, recruiting, and developing neurodiverse talent and broadening our talent pool in this area. We see it again as important for our business and our clients that our talent reflects the diverse communities of our clients that we serve. And we know that neurodivergent employees have a wide range of transferable skills that can be leveraged by all employees in their lines of business.

This is near and dear to our founder Charles Schwab’s heart. He has publicly shared his own struggles and successes as a person with lifelong dyslexia and really that neurodiverse barrier to learning. We’re proud of this program. We believe that the Neurodiversity at Work program will really help us to attract new talent that can enhance team creativity and productivity through new ways of thinking and better retain, develop, and support existing employees with neurodiverse conditions. And I’m a mother and one of my children has dyslexia as well and just so fascinating to watch them problem-solve and deal with things in a very different way to what many of us do. That type of diversity, we believe, is only going to enhance and make us even better at what we do day to day.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s very helpful and gives some of our listening audience nice food for thought. We’ve covered a lot here, Lisa, and I do try and keep up with everything that Charles Schwab is doing and working on in this space, but clearly, you have a lot going on in your diversity journey. Are there any other items or programs that you’d like to share with our audience?

Lisa Hunt: I referenced it earlier, but I will highlight a little bit more the work that we’re doing with historically Black colleges and universities. It’s an important part of our marketplace pillar and our work to foster diverse talent in financial services. To highlight a little bit of what we’re doing, the Charles Schwab Foundation has endowed a three-and-a-half million-dollar scholarship program to provide financial assistance and career opportunities to underrepresented students majoring in financial planning at seven partner universities across the United States. I’ll name a couple including Arizona State, Purdue, Temple, Texas Tech, the University of Akron, and University of Arizona, and Virginia Tech.

Through our advisor services university grant program, we also partner with historically black colleges and universities to strengthen their financial planning curriculum and add focus to the registered investment advisor industry, as a gateway for these individuals to network with advisors, come out with a core skill, the CFP designation, or being ready to achieve that designation. It’s very attractive to RIAs that are looking to expand their staff and certainly with diverse individuals. And then the Schwab Advisor Services RIA Talent Advantage Scholarship Program is in place and aims to raise awareness of the independent investment advisory profession and it provides ten-thousand-dollar scholarships to 12 students annually as well. It is just an awesome way for us to not only support the companies that come to Schwab to do their work and to custody their assets and work with their clients but also hopefully provide real meaningful careers for these individuals. and get them interested while they’re in college in a career in financial services.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s very interesting and clearly shows the commitment that Schwab must advance diverse talent within your firm and the industry more broadly. Thank you so much again, Lisa, for joining me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you. To learn more about SIFMA’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, visit sifma.org/diversity. Thank you to all our listeners for tuning in, and we hope you’ll join us for our next episode of the SIFMA Podcast. Thanks again, Lisa.

Lisa Kidd Hunt is Managing Director, Head of International Services for Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.

Cheryl Crispen is Executive Vice President and Head of DE&I for SIFMA.