An interview with Tash Elwyn
Tash Elwyn leads the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council, a group of senior leaders who work to ensure our firmwide commitment to diversity and inclusion continues to thrive and evolve. It is the primary body responsible for supporting the implementation of corporate diversity initiatives, representing associate and leader concerns and championing the practice of inclusion throughout the firm. As the head of the firm’s employee channel for advisors and an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, he engages regularly with the firm’s Advisor Inclusion Networks in support of their members and activities, including the inaugural Business of Pride Symposium.
The firm’s vision is to be a financial services firm as unique as the people we serve. What role do diversity, equity and inclusion play in fulfilling that vision?
Diversity is about the varied experiences that define us and make us who we are, whereas inclusion is how we leverage those experiences and how we foster an environment, particularly here at Raymond James, where those diverse perspectives can be heard. As you go beyond diversity and inclusion, and one brings equity into the conversation, equity is something that stands at the intersection of diversity and inclusion. Equity is about recognizing and understanding that, as individuals, we all have unique experiences and backgrounds and need, therefore, tailored opportunities to help create equal abilities to achieve outcomes. Bringing all three of these together – diversity, inclusion and equity – really enables us collectively to be the best we can be and leverage what makes Raymond James so unique.
We’re creating platforms and opportunities to tell our stories and celebrate the collective strength that comes from all the people who comprise the firm.
In what ways is the firm engaging and celebrating the unique backgrounds and perspectives of advisors and associates?
Among the many important things we do is focus on education and awareness. We’re creating platforms and opportunities to tell our stories and celebrate the collective strength that comes from all the people who comprise the firm. I would point to the heritage months that our inclusion networks celebrate throughout the calendar year, and I would pair that with the many great stories that have been told through the People of Raymond James video series in which people share their stories and perspectives, which you can find by searching that term on RJnet.
It’s amazing how much we can learn about each other if we simply ask questions and listen.
How do you create an environment where people have access and opportunities regardless of their backgrounds and identities?
It begins with making sure we’re not making any assumptions about people’s aspirations or capabilities. It’s also important that each of us expands beyond the circles we might interact with on a regular basis, both within the firm and more broadly within the community. Personally, one of the best examples I can share is my commitment to mentoring. I am a mentor within Raymond James through the Women’s Inclusion Network as well as the mentorship program for Black associates. Outside of Raymond James, I have long been a participant in the University of South Florida’s corporate mentorship program, which initially focused on mentoring first-generation diverse students at USF and has since expanded to include all students in the business school because they’ve had so much success securing mentors to participate in the program. Internal or external, that act of giving back, as selfless as it is, has great selfish benefit as well. I come away from each of those interactions learning as much, if not more, than my mentees.
How do you ensure all people feel they are safe and supported to be their authentic selves at work?
I think we all need to model the behavior we want to see. Leaders have to be vulnerable about our own journey and our own experiences. As part of that, it’s also important that each of us, regardless of role, leads with and interacts with great curiosity. It’s amazing how much we can learn about each other if we simply ask questions and listen.
What strategies do you use for developing innovative diverse teams?
Oftentimes, it begins with the end in mind: What is it we’re trying to solve for? And from there you need to think about the voices that need to be part of it and the skills and the perspectives that can create a much stronger outcome for all involved. It’s important to be really intentional about building a team of talented associates who bring those valued and critical perspectives.
We all have biases. Knowing your biases is akin to checking your blind spot while driving. How do you purposefully check your blind spots?
We all have blind spots and we all have biases – some are conscious and some are unconscious. This requires you to do three things. First, you have to engage with others. You have to have relationships with people you trust to be really candid and constructive with you. Any time you begin to sense you may be acting upon one of your biases, engage those people and solicit feedback. And foster an environment and culture in which they feel safe proactively providing that feedback. Second, you have to pause when making a decision to really reflect on the data points and the inputs, whether they’re qualitative or quantitative, and be cognizant of how inclusive the decision is. Lastly, you have to be a perpetual learner, recognizing that as much as any of us may have grown professionally and personally over the years, diversity, equity and inclusion are evergreen and we will all continue to learn how strength can come from our collective differences.
Has there been a time when you did not feel included? What or who made the difference?
That’s a terrific question. It causes me to think back to the summer of the innumerable tragedies that occurred in our country with the killing of George Floyd and others. In the wake of that, I think we all reflected on what was happening in our country. My reaction was a period of really deep self-reflection where I had to come to terms with the admission that I had not and have not ever felt excluded. I have never been in a position where I felt disadvantaged or threatened or at risk, or even had the thought cross my mind that I might be in peril when pulled over for a traffic offense. Not that I was blind to that, but it came home to me in a big way that I have had advantages and opportunities in my life that others, by virtue of their skin color, may not have had. It has given me a much greater appreciation and sensitivity for understanding what others may have faced that I never have. It’s incumbent on all of us, regardless of one’s role in the firm, to be willing to, as the saying goes, get comfortable being uncomfortable and be vulnerable with each other and have these conversations. I’m confident that by fostering an environment and culture at Raymond James where people feel safe and supported and empowered to have these conversations, as uncomfortable as they may be, that we will all be better for it.
As the head of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council, how does this leadership group support and implement our diversity and inclusion initiatives?
I’ve been active for several years with the firmwide Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council and it’s been a terrific experience – not always easy – but terrific being part of a team with so many dedicated associates with the shared goal of furthering diversity, inclusion and equity at Raymond James. This group works closely with our Advisor Inclusion Networks as well, and serves as a sounding board in so many positive ways for the firm’s Executive Committee and the Operating Committee, as well as a number of our businesses. While from a cup-half-full standpoint, there is much, much more for us to do together, we’ve built a strong foundation and we will continue to grow together.
What role can each of us play?
The most important thing anyone can do is get involved. It takes each and every one of us contributing in ways big and small. I encourage and ask everyone to find a way. Reach out to your Human Resources partner, to your leadership team. Reach out to Renée Baker, who leads our Advisor Inclusion Networks, or to Pedro Suriel, who leads our firmwide diversity and inclusion initiative. Reach out to me. We’re all here to stand shoulder to shoulder and lift each other up, and it begins with raising a hand.
While from a cup-half-full standpoint, there is much, much more for us to do together, we’ve built a strong foundation and we will continue to grow together.
This piece was featured in Pride Perspectives, a biannual newsletter from the Pride Financial Advisors Network. View the latest.