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Lessons from the Big Leagues on Diversity Programs

By Miriam Rozen November 24, 2020

Major League Baseball’s diversity initiative could provide a blueprint for brokerage firms looking to create their own programs that mesh with their branch-office structures, according to former MLB executive Renée Tirado.

In 2018, MLB created a fellowship program for diverse candidates to serve 18-to-24-month stints in operations offices among the league’s clubs and with its commissioner, said Tirado, who was the league’s chief diversity and inclusion officer from February 2016 to July 2019.

The program established league-wide parameters but decentralized hiring decisions, leaving those up to the clubs themselves, a template which could prove useful in a brokerage context, said Tirado, now a principal with VegaRobles Consulting, last week at the CFP Board’s 2020 Diversity Summit and Career Fair.

Diversity programs among brokerages have floundered in the past because corporate headquarters have at times been “force-feeding” the branch offices where managers make hiring decisions, an approach that “can activate bias rather than stamp it out,” Frank Dobbin, a Harvard sociology professor, and Alexandra Kalev, a Tel Aviv University sociology and anthropology professor, write in a Harvard Business Review article examining the failures of diversity programs, including in the brokerage industry.

While Tirado’s team controlled the marketing, recruiting, and interviewing of candidates, they left it up to clubs to each make their own hiring decisions from among a slate of potential fellows, she said. “We collaborated closely with the clubs by asking them to draft documents to match them with the appropriate candidates. And after initial screenings, we provided a slate of candidates to them that were subject to the club's individual interview processes,” she said.

Ultimately, 80% of the fellowship participants were hired into permanent roles, she said.

In addition to allowing for decentralized hiring decisions, the MLB program also succeeded by offering higher salaries for fellowship participants, and lengthening the duration of the program from one year to the 18- to 24-month range, Tirado said, suggesting that brokerages could adopt a similar strategy. The longer duration helped "neutralize" other historical patterns in which managers only hired candidates that matched their preconceived notions of who fit into the roles — patterns that had led to fewer minorities and women getting hired, she said.

Previous MLB programs had offered participants minimum wage, which created “challenges, especially when you start talking about different demographics and student debts,” she said. Instead, her team designed the program to get teams to pay fellows in the diversity programs the national average for recent college graduates, which was $60,000, she said.

The MLB program also assigned two mentors to each fellow to help them navigate the league’s particular culture and business, she said.

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