Stepping into the light

Financial advisor Lynne Wright, WMSSM, used to want to hide. Now, she’s an award-winning advocate for diversity and inclusion.

Lynne WrightFor Lynne Wright, the dichotomy is undeniable.

She spent decades in a “deep-dive closet,” she said, unwilling to share her true self with co-workers after a painful personal journey that included marrying a man to try to fit in, falling in love with a woman and being disowned by her family for decades.

For so long, she wasn’t comfortable being out, let alone speaking out.

So, when InvestmentNews honored Lynne in October with the See It, Be It award as part of its Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Awards program, she couldn’t help but acknowledge the irony of receiving an award rooted in visibility.

“I was so hidden,” she said. “I didn’t want to be seen as a lesbian. I wanted to be like everybody else and blend. I was afraid.”

But not anymore.

Lynne, the senior vice president of Wright Wealth Management of Raymond James in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of the advisory council for the Pride Financial Advisors Network and has served on the Women Financial Advisors Network Advisory Council at the firm. Her professional coming out journey began when she joined the firm in 2001. Her role as vocal advocate has been growing ever since.

“I have been comfortable at Raymond James from day one,” Lynne said. “This is a comfortable place to work as an out lesbian.”

When she first arrived, however, it did not offer partner benefits, which Lynne had access to at her previous firm and needed to provide health insurance for her then-partner, now-wife Marci. So she approached firm leadership.

“I just didn’t want to be silent about it,” she said. “‘The straight guy who sits next to me gets these for his wife, but I can’t?’ In 2001, I couldn’t let that inequality go anymore. I was confident enough in my career at that point to come out professionally – fire me, fine. It was time to step up.”

When Raymond James has the opportunity to do the right thing, it does the right thing.

And when Lynne has the opportunity to persuade, she persuades.

She jokes that her college major is a well-kept secret, but clearly she put that degree in speech and dramatic arts to good use. After graduation, she persuaded someone to give her a job selling weird little devices she knew almost nothing about. She was successful selling word processors, her ability to explain an intangible concept over the phone a precursor to her next job.

Thinking she fit the description, Lynne answered an ad for a “proven producer.” When the man who interviewed her explained he was looking for someone with an existing book of business in financial services, Lynne didn’t know anything about that, either. She got the job anyway.

What began with a lot of cold-calling – “I’ve got a municipal bond at 13%, how many do you want?” – evolved into a one-woman financial services practice. When her firm closed its Ann Arbor branch, Lynne relocated to a suburb of Detroit and began working with Prudential, but wasn’t happy there. She returned to Ann Arbor and joined Raymond James.

Within a few years, her business had become so successful she was no longer able to serve clients efficiently or effectively by herself. A solo advisor for the first 25 years of her career, she now leads a team of four women dedicated to her proven model of building meaningful relationships with clients to help them achieve their financial goals.

“I’m so proud of a 35-year career, of building relationships with families I feel very close to,” she said. “I’m proud of the business that I’ve built. I’m also extremely proud of the team that I’ve built. They’re hard-working, capable, caring. And they will continue the legacy of client-first service and the culture we’ve built at Raymond James.”

With a team to help her, Lynne suddenly had more time. A few friends knew just how she could spend it. But this time, Lynne had to be persuaded.

“I went kicking and screaming onto the Women’s Advisory Council,” she said.

She didn’t think she had a voice. There were so many other more articulate and outspoken women at the firm – let them step up, she thought. Her friends encouraged her. She went to a meeting, sat quietly and listened. She was impressed.

“It took me a couple of days, but they helped me find my voice and gave me space in that room to speak my truths,” Lynne said. “Since then it’s been like a firehose. I do have a lot to say and a lot to contribute.”

It’s important to me that younger women and LGBT+ people recognize they belong here, they are wanted here, they are welcome here. I don’t want another young financial advisor to think they don’t have a place here.

When the Pride Financial Advisors Network launched in June 2020, it wasn’t hard to get Lynne onto the advisory council. She believes it is vital to have an organization that supports LGBT+ advisors and the communities they serve.

“Diversity is one thing and inclusion is another,” she said. “Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. Our senior management is asking us to dance.”

The network’s role in that relationship is to help senior leaders understand how supporting the LGBT+ advisor community is a sound business strategy. Making LGBT+ advisors feel like they belong, are safe and have a seat at the table, she said, can improve profitability.

“The culture at Raymond James is real,” she said, “now let’s embrace the LGBT+ community.”

She believes the network has another important role to play: holding senior leaders accountable.

“Now that they’ve said, ‘Yes, this is important,’ show us with your resources,” Lynne said. “Can we get more unconscious bias training? I did the InvestmentNews diversity workshop and someone mentioned firms need more than a diversity officer, they need a diversity office – a department that focuses on diversity and inclusion. I’m grateful and thankful that our senior leaders have opened the door for us, but now let’s turn on some lights and make this a reality.”

Persuasive, indeed.

Still, Lynne will try to make the case she is not highly visible. People in Ann Arbor know her as the financial advisor, not the gay financial advisor. At Pride marches, she is somewhere toward the middle of the pack, not in front holding the banner. She has not, she said, been an outspoken lesbian.

But being a gay woman did make Lynne work hard because she believed she had to be better than the rest. The best financial advisor, the best friend, the best everything. She worked so hard at making real connections with people and building strong client relationships.

Those relationships turned out to be the story of her life.

The man who hired her for her first job all those years ago? She still keeps in touch, believing that without him her story would have been much different. She sent him the InvestmentNews video in which all the Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Awards honorees were interviewed.

Someone was calling her a role model, a symbol of success.

For Lynne, it was a powerful affirmation.

She whistled to set up the only word that seemed suitable: “Wow.”

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