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Financial Equity and Economic Growth – S2 Ep. 1

Episode Summary

Delve into the important topic of financial equity with a focus on advocacy, specific barriers marginalized entrepreneurs face, and unique strategies that can foster more economic opportunities. Host Betsy Cerulo is joined by Sam McClure, the Executive Director of the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity, and Aquiera Halsey, who is a board member of the Maryland LGBTQ Foundation.

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About Sam McClure

Sam McClure serves as the executive director of The Center for LGBTQ Health Equity and serves on the Senior Executive Leadership Team of Chase Brexton Health Care.

She is a passionate champion of the center’s mission: to create health equity for LGBTQ patients in our communities and around the world through better health care services, education, and advocacy.

In her previous role as Senior Vice President of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), McClure led affiliate relations, external affairs, public policy and advocacy, and supplier diversity teams, as well as serving on the organization’s executive leadership team.  

McClure is a nationally recognized keynote speaker, commentator, panelist, and a subject matter expert on LGBTQ Economic Development and Health Equity. An award-winning strategist, she co-created the LGBT Business Builder initiative (a collaboration between the NGLCC and the US Small Business Administration) and built local collaboration models in 13 cities. This program ultimately won a “Bright Idea Award” from Harvard University. In June of 2019, McClure was named one of 48 Legacy Leaders by BEQ Magazine in recognition of our impact in Non-Profit and Community Development.

About Aquiera Halsey

Aquiera Halsey is an experienced entrepreneur, strategist, and thought leader. In 2021, Aquiera was recognized by the National Diversity Council as one of the top 50 Business Resource Group leaders in the country for her work on the Human Rights Campaign's Healthcare Equality Index Leader. Aquiera is passionate about utilizing data to make informed decisions to mitigate health disparities/address social determinants of health. In addition to 14+ years of progressive experience in population health management, she’s served Fortune 50 organizations across the country as a Performance Improvement Consultant. She’s served on the Board of the Maryland LGBTQ+ Chamber Foundation since 2022.


Aquiera earned a Master of Public Health degree from Thomas Jefferson University and her Business Administration bachelor’s degree is from Drexel University. She currently resides in the Baltimore - Washington, DC Metro area with her Yorkie, Arya Stark.

Episode Transcript – Financial Equity and Economic Growth

Betsy Cerulo: Welcome to Room at the Table, an opportunity for you to join me, Betsy Cerulo, and my guests for conversations about creating equitable and inclusive workplaces where leaders rise above mediocrity and our teams thrive. Pull up a chair, there's always Room at the Table. 

Welcome to another meaningful conversation on Room at the Table. I am Betsy Cerulo, your host, and welcome to my guests today, first, from Chase Brexton Health Care, Sam McClure who is the Executive Director of the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity, and Aquiera Halsey, who is a board member of the Maryland LGBTQ Foundation, and who is a subject matter expert in professional development and organizational effectiveness. Both amazing women share a passion in equity and elevating diverse communities. Today, we are talking about financial equity, what does it mean, and why financial equity is paramount in everything we do. So pull up a chair, enjoy your favorite beverage and let's get started. So, welcome my friends, it is so good to see you and have you here to share this conversation.


Aquiera Halsey: So glad to be here, Betsy, and of course, Sam, it's always a pleasure to be with you again.

Sam McClure: Right back at you, and happy to be back here again, Betsy. Thanks so much for the confidence and trust that you have in us and inviting us to the conversation today. It's a great topic.

Yeah, it is. I will share, when we talk about financial equity, and Sam, we go way back to NGLCC, and certainly at a time when I was starting to discover the power of the LGBTE certification. A lot of times, through the work at NGLCC, it was even more obvious to me how there wasn't enough financial equity. NGLCC was one of the front-runners to make that happen, but so many times we would all sit around in conversations and you could see that those of us who were people of color, women, and I could go down the list, there was just something that didn't feel fair. But because we're all trailblazers and we're relentless, you just keep going forward. And what I really want to accomplish is that with the wisdom that you both bring, and myself, with our experiences, that some of our listeners can find just a kernel of something that they can say, you know what, I'm going to take a new action today because of what I heard. And I know that both of you, you are such proponents of equity, and I really think we're going to be able to bring a lot to this conversation.

I love that. Let's find the kernels. Let's find them. 

That's right. So, let me ask my first question. How do we, as established business leaders, open up the door to financial equity? What do you think? Sam, I'll start with you.

Well, as always, you ask a big, meaty question right out of the gate. I think I want to dance around it a little bit and also try to get to it as well. I mean, I think one of the first things we have to do is really, really stay present to this conversation and remind people about why it matters. And I love that you cited our time together when we were working in the Chamber of Commerce and economic advocacy world together, with not only supporting LGBTQ owned businesses, also women-owned businesses, Hispanic-owned businesses, Black-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, businesses owned by people with disabilities, businesses owned by women, and making sure that that big table that's at the center of our economy, that everyone has a seat there. When I was working in that space, this one kind of concept I kept thinking about all the time is we weren't just working to open up opportunities for our specific stakeholders, but we were also serving our nation and the overall economy because the reality is when any person is locked out of the economy for any reason, the whole system starts to degrade. It won't work unless everyone is able to engage and fully participate. And there are so many barriers that are very specific to either someone's community of identity or their geography. I mean, we think about deep, deep issues in our country like redlining and things that go back very, very far, and then, just reminding people that we have to understand that we have to just constantly be reinventing what a rich, robust, vibrant, and actually inclusive economy really looks like. So we have to keep really stirring that conversation and get people to really think about it on a broad level. I mean, I think that's step one, and then as we dig deeper into it, really talking to communities very specifically, and making sure that people have what they need, not just what we perceive that they might need, but finding out what are those barriers and how are they different from what we think and how can we actively engage in really removing some of these obstacles.

It's an ongoing journey and a challenge at the same time.

It is, and I hope it's not that kind of journey where we're slowly meandering through the wonderland of what we hope will happen for decades and saying we've been on a journey, but more like something that we measure and we look at specific change and measurable shifts in people's economic power. We have to be relentless about it because anybody who's not paying attention to this issue, we're first going to have to get them to pay attention. But then we're just going to have to keep pushing and digging deeper all the time.

Aquiera, what are your thoughts?

I really enjoyed what Sam shared and kind of building off of that, redlining and thinking about building environments, it's so important for us to involve the community at the entry level of conversations. I'm reminded of Lexington Market in Baltimore being revitalized and how the community stakeholders invested in focus groups with community members from day one. So a lot of people were apprehensive about what type of businesses would go back into the new version of Lexington Market and ultimately, that engagement increased amongst the community and increased the diversity of vendors that are in the market today. I think outside of that, my background is in public health, population health management, so I see financial equity as being a component of social determinant of health, right? Do you make enough money to support your family, to focus on food, to focus on housing, to focus on safety and security, education, your well-being, your mental health? And so a lot of times, in my work, I've talked to faculty officers and business leaders about, what does it look like to offer benefits to the employees that work for your company? Are they utilizing those benefits? Do they understand the financial resources available to them? Do they understand if they take a loan against their paycheck, what does that really look like? When you're taking less money in, do they understand the difference between gross and net? And even amongst my millennial peers, I talk about negotiating salaries, right? How much money do you really need to make to live comfortably, to pay your student loans, to pay your bills? When you receive an offer, let's say you receive an offer for $100,000, are you calculating the taxes that will be taken out of your check? Because on paper, it sounds great to say I make $100,000, but if you're really only taking home $65,000, is that feasible for the bills that you have? In addition to your responsibility to yourself to uphold financial awareness, I have some friends who have recently told me, I would love to move, but I messed up my credit. That's something that's very real within the Black community and within my millennial age band. What are you doing to make sure that you remain financially secure for the future? Because things happen, but being irresponsible has its repercussions.

It does. I think opening up doors, like for myself who's an established business, I can say that over the years, there have definitely been times that I had other women-owned businesses who would support me. Not just women, but other people in diverse groups who were supportive of me to get on a contract, to be a subcontractor, how to fill out this RFP correctly. So if I think about my journey in building the business, a lot of it was collaboration. I wasn't afraid to go and ask people for help because I didn't understand the federal government. I find that I'm not ashamed to go ask. I will still work – I kind of switch it now, where I will offer that to other people. Well, would you like us to be the prime? How can I help you to get in the door? Can I give you the name or a phone number or make an email introduction that would put someone in front of someone that they need to talk to? I had a conversation yesterday with a colleague of mine, a very, very successful gentleman of color, and we were talking about mental health and the disparities that he still experiences – he’s very wealthy. He’s just not asked the same questions – he feels it – that a Caucasian person would be asked. I have conversations with a number of my colleagues who are Black women who own businesses. If you look down through the PPP time, at the beginning of the pandemic, those of us who put in our applications for the PPP money, some people got it quickly and some people never got it. Sadly, one of the banks that was a big culprit was a top sponsor for some of the large, you know, NMSDC, I believe NGLCC, WeBank. You think to yourself, you're a big name sponsor representing or saying that you're representing diversity, and people are still coming back saying, you don't look at my application. I'm really struck by some of the large companies. They're out there saying that they want to support us, but when it's pedal to the metal time, they're not there. I have a problem with the hypocrisy, and that's why we have to keep pushing this harder and harder and to call them out.

I would love to add to that. I think when it comes to diversity, it ultimately comes down to the bottom dollar, the ROI, because America is built on capitalism, first and foremost. So, a lot of people, I feel like, forget that. And so as unfortunate as it is to see some of these businesses not follow through with their commitments, the reality is there's some calculation behind the scene where they just said this ROI investment isn't worth it for us right now. It's no longer our priority. And we, as outsiders, aren't privy to that conversation. The two other points when you mentioned the PPP loans, a lot of small diverse businesses actually ended up shutting down in the pandemic because they didn't file their appropriate certificates. So right now, in my current career, I've worked on vendor management, vendor relation management, and I'm actually working on a RFP request for a proposal. Just today, I had to have a hard conversation with a small woman-owned business and say, you've just missed out on a half a million dollars over the next five years because you couldn't provide your certificate to me because you didn't file it before it expired, and you also did not follow through with communications to me or the rest of the team to say, hey, this is what's going on, let me be transparent. Think of the gravity of that. Two women own this business and you just lost out on $500,000. If you would have been prepared, like the other vendors I'm working with, you could have easily been within the mix. Because quite honestly, an organization can't wait for you to procrastinate and get online and get back on track with the things that you should have at your fingertips, the deliverables that you should have. I think that that's, oftentimes, an issue for small, diverse business owners, but in general, closing the gap for financial inequity, you have to realize what you need and hold yourself accountable. Be prepared. I'm sure there's some quote about preparation meets opportunity. I went to business school. I forget all those things. But it's so true. If that vendor was prepared, they would have been a shoe-in.

Yeah, I don't know what expression you were thinking of, but the one that comes to my mind is “luck is where preparation and opportunity collide.”

Yes, that's it.

I learned that on the golf course because I practice putting a lot. So my lucky days really have nothing to do with luck, they just have to do with the fact that I practiced a lot. But you bring up such an interesting point about that hard conversation that you had to have with that business owner who needs that opportunity. I spent a lot of time around supplier diversity experts in the last iteration of my career, and I'm glad you pivoted to healthcare because I work in healthcare now. I think about these social drivers all the time. I remember when I was working in economic advocacy and supplier diversity, I kept running into health equity issues, and it's why I actually got into this work, because I was like, I'm so interested in this. Why are we still talking about this when we're talking with business owners who should be past these barriers that they're running into, but they're not. So there's definitely a correlation there, and I'm glad that you brought that up before. Thinking about these business owners submitting for opportunities, even your earlier comments, when you went back to talking about credit and negotiation, sometimes, we, as leaders, fail to realize that not everybody is receiving the same kind of information and preparation about what is needed for the way forward as everyone else. That's just as big a barrier as something like redlining. It shows up over and over and over. One conversation I heard a lot around contracting that bothered me so much that I just started incorporating it into every keynote I gave and in any city I visited, if I was in front of a Chamber of Commerce, full of diverse business owners, I would talk about this. But it was that moment when a business owner was approaching a contract opportunity and they realized that they need a line of credit, at least the size of that contract. And they weren't thinking about that. They were thinking about all the things I could earn from this contract, if I got this contract, what it would mean to my business, not realizing that the people who are going to receive their proposal are looking for signs of this deep stability. Is this business prepared to leverage this next opportunity? A lot of entrepreneurs, they're thinking about how good they are at what they do, they're not thinking about that structural element that is necessary. You can get to the opportunity without all that. You just can't push through it. It's going to be something that's a barrier or something like being able to provide all the documentation for your certifications or all the proper levels of insurance that you need, all the things. I think we have so much work to do to just build those kinds of conversations in early to all communities. I think I've talked to both of you about my interest in first generation entrepreneurs. When we get it in rooms full of business leaders, there usually aren't that many first generation entrepreneurs in the room. Usually it's like, well, I learned about entrepreneurship from my dad or this is a family business or I went to MBA school or, there's all these things, but there's always someone in that room that is just like scrappy and creative and they've built something out of sheer will and whatever their special superpowers are, but they don't have people around them to talk to them about, hey, what are the things that you need to go with that? They might even be coming from a family, and this is how I first got interested in this is I heard an entrepreneur talking about this. She was from a family of people who were sending messages to her through her young life, like, hey, you should take the civil service exam. Get yourself a stable government job with a pension, keep your nose clean, be diligent, stay the course, because they were just thinking about that for whatever reason. That was the culture of their family. It was about safety, really. But for her, she wasn't cut out for that. She's a cultural creative, and had so much to offer as a business leader, but hit barrier after barrier after barrier because she didn't have anybody to lean on to be like, what about these other things? She was focused on the core of her business model. And I really think there's a lot that organizations can do on that front, just like, what do we need to put in front of this first generation entrepreneur to give them everything they need to thrive and succeed? Because what a big opportunity for a family, for the next generation of that family, if this entrepreneur really, truly has a shot and has that support system around them. I mean, Betsy, you talk freely about your network of business leaders who helped you out, but you knew to ask. You know what I mean? So I feel like there's a lot there that we need to keep talking about with all the business advocacy organizations and the organizations who potentially will contract with the business owners and with business owners or potential business owners. I love talking to entrepreneurial types who are just getting out of school trying to decide, what is their next education endeavor, what's their top three ideas. Some of these folks, if we can meet them where they are and see that they haven't had the same experience leading up to what they're going to do than other people have had, I think we can have a huge impact by embracing those first generation entrepreneurs.

I have found, over the years, when we talk about entrepreneurial dream, there's a lot of resources out there. That's where I now guide business owners, new business owners, to look at the Small Business Development Center, look at PTAC. You can get a lot of courses there at no cost. You're always going to get tons of emails where we’re going to get you this GSA schedule for $25,000 or we're going to help you get your 8A certification for $15,000, whatever. And I get all those emails. I think to myself, what do I do? It's a lot of money. It's an investment. And I can tell you, we got our GSA schedule on our own because we worked with representatives at PTAC. I did hire a consultant to help me with my 8A narrative. At the time, when I did that, it was $5,000, so a lot less than what other people were paying and I had good results. Now, I had a good narrative so that made a difference. But there's a lot of learning out there, a lot of resources out there that new entrepreneurs can tap into. So I go back to the line of credit. When I started out, the door was shut on me so many times from so many male bankers. So I was out there in 1990 looking for funding. I didn’t get a thing. So I said, you know what, heck with you. I got a whole bunch of credit cards. It wasn't really the best thing to do, but that was my line of credit. So I didn't have any other resources. So I went that direction. It was risky, but I took it, eventually it paid off. And there's so many creative ways that people can find the funding or can get around the inequity, but sometimes, it does feel like you're walking in with blocks of cement on your feet. The key is you show up and you don't give up. I know that sounds kind of simple, but there were certainly so many times when I would just be in tears thinking, how am I going to make this work? But somehow, I think, even when we're pushed to that edge, sometimes, we can be our most creative at those points.

Certainly, because you also had belief in yourself. I'm a first-generation entrepreneur. I started my own baking business when I was 11, actually for a Girl Scout competition that I never won. You can tell I'm still a little salty about that. I actually had the business for seven years, and then I attended Drexel University and pursued a degree in entrepreneurship. I purposely went that route because I said, I see celebrities making millions of dollars, and in the early 2000s, a lot of them were going to jail for tax evasion, not because they purposely were doing it, but because the people that they trusted didn't file their taxes or follow through with the business initiatives that they were supposed to. And I said, I want to know just enough where I'm in the business of knowing people so I can use person A and either understand a little bit or research or have the other resources available to me and then have someone else where I can double check as well. I think there's an overflow of data and information out there, so that kind of causes paralysis for some people, depending on their personality type. But there are certainly resource organizations that offer many free services for young entrepreneurs. I think the other glaring thing that I normally say to entrepreneurs is, what is their value proposition? Why exactly do you want to become an entrepreneur? Because it isn't easy. I can tell you, at the age of 13, baking cakes, 50 cakes per holiday, and doing everything on my own with the exception of driving was a lot. I went to school every day and I baked all night and slept four to five hours per night. But I was passionate about that. So that passion, that why, kept me going when it just felt like it was just too much. But what was my value proposition? Then, it was the joy of baking and having a few extra dollars in my pocket. I actually went to college thinking that I would pursue a culinary degree as well. That didn't work out, Drexel wanted too much money. But when the first recession hit in 2009, I had to say to myself, everyone's starting to bake, right? People got laid off and suddenly they're bakers. Do I still have that same value proposition? Am I the best designer? Can I make birthday cakes that would be on Food Network? No, I can't. Okay, maybe I could do this for fun. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are not realistic with themselves about the value that they bring to their business idea and the execution of that idea. Because when things get hard, like your example of not getting a line of credit, are you willing to put your personal credit on the line? Are you willing to push forward because you have that strong of a belief within your business? And more often than not, people aren't. To Sam's earlier point about what organizations could do, I'm thinking about things in terms of compliance training. We all know that HR departments have their benefits listed and outlined for employees, the employee handbook details. I can say, I read those details and some of my peers come to me when they should be asking their husbands and wives, but I review them with them anyway. So compliance trainings, I think, would be a great idea to leverage because they're normally mandatory and on an annual basis. So let's say we have a compliance training on financial literacy, then that would increase employee well-being. Maybe the employee learned about life insurance, which I'm learning a little bit about myself, and trusts. Maybe that makes them make personal decisions at home to secure their children's future with a trust and make sure that their business is rolled into that trust as well. So okay, that would increase employee well-being. And if you increase employee well-being from the financial perspective and the overall health of the employee, that would, in turn, work out in insurance premiums, right? So the company would pay less and the employee would be able to work the hours that they are allocated, outside of taking your vacation because everyone needs to take vacation. And then, conversely, that increases health equity. So I'm seeing it as a kind of hub and spoke, right? It's a progression but we have to be intentional about it. I mean, I've had these conversations before with health equity leaders of, hey, these are your employees, what are you doing for the people that work at your organization besides increasing minimum wage? How are you making sure that their literacy and their knowledge base is being expanded so they can make better decisions? Because, all too often, some of the conversations that we have, how we learn, it's from personal investment, right? Like the mentors that you've worked with, Betsy, that said, hey, this is how you fill out this form, this is how you end up becoming a subcontractor for the next two years and then, ultimately, year three, you can become the prime on a contract. Thinking long-term and seeing the plan is what a lot of entrepreneurs really need to have a hard discussion with themselves about.

I love what you're talking about, your hub and spoke model, particularly employers taking responsibility for really supporting the growth and development of their employees, not just in their skills, because that kind of development is more like, I want to make sure that this employee can stretch and grow and do their best work at my company. When you invest in things like talking about financial literacy, leveraging your benefits to the best value for your family, I love the example of saving for a child's education and understanding the tax benefits of doing that or how to pick your health health insurance coverage. Hey, maybe a health savings account would make sense for you because it’s low premium but it's high deductible. Maybe it wouldn't. How do you tease that out? I think that kind of training is really important because we're investing in the people who work with us beyond the way it might serve our organization and more to, what helps this person live their best life and make their best financial decisions. I love that kind of stuff and I think there's so much mythology in the economics of our nation. My least favorite myth is something in the American Dream narrative, which we've kind of exhausted, I think. But it goes something like, if you work hard all your life, you can achieve anything, you can have the best success. There's a little truth in there, and there's a lot of mythology in there too, because really, to achieve wealth and grow wealth and think about generational wealth and taking good care of your family over long periods of time, you have to own some things. You're going to have to start to move in not only this equity position that we're talking about as a social justice issue, but also, taking some equity and ownership and the things that you're participating in. It might need to be more than a home. Not talking about that with people, I think is such a disservice, and it doesn't help people understand what's kind of cool and fun about economics. People looking for their first home that might be able to get a multi-family dwelling, what impact would that have on them? Just having these conversations and nurturing them in ways that they can really take root, I think, are so important because some people just don't think about things the same way or they don't have the same network. I think that's really important.

Yeah, absolutely because, especially today, it costs so much more to rent a place than it used to be. So sometimes, people get overwhelmed with the cost of rent. Or they think, there's no way I can buy that house. It might be tough right now, but what else can you do to increase your wealth? Sometimes, the younger generations don't understand about a 401K plan, saving for your future, or sometimes, even not selecting health benefits. You never know what could happen. And health coverage is really not about age because anything detrimental can happen at any age. But I do find that I like to have conversations with the younger generations. What can you do to invest in your future if you can't afford to buy real estate? What else is there that you can build upon? And sometimes, it's just merely having that conversation and listening to what their thinking is, and then to be able to say, well, have you thought about this? Have you thought about that? Then, you kind of see the lights go off where, you know, I hadn't thought about it that way, let me take some action there. So when I get into those conversations with younger entrepreneurs or younger people, I try to ask them, well what small action can you take towards this? Because I come from a generation and an upbringing where it wasn't about what small thing – what are you going to do to get it done? I don't care how big it is, what are you going to do? But now, I feel like if you chunk things down and give it to people, what's a small thing that you can do? Then, it feels like it's a possibility, maybe I can achieve that if I just move it a couple of inches, if you will. It doesn't have to be this big thing to start, but you've got to flex your muscles of taking risks. So take a small risk, and then go from there. 

I think the caveat here is, oftentimes, we say things are one size fits all. I can say, in my early 20s, I think I was about 22, I had an accountant who told me I should do a 401k match. I was the only one within my friend group doing that and I did. By the time I left my first employer, I was vested. That's a missed opportunity. Then fast forward when I looked at buying homes in the pandemic, I could have taken money out of my 401k or when I got laid off from a job, I could have taken money out of the 401k. There's a little caveat there. I would have to be with an employer, but still it was a rainy day fund. It is a rainy day fund that most people overlook. However, there's a lot of rhetoric throughout our communities to say that the American dream is buying a house. There's a podcast that I listen to, I believe it's called “Earn Your Leisure,” two African-American guys that are always talking about ways to have new business ventures. Recently, one said, the worst financial mistake I ever made was buying a home, buying a plot of land to build a home, because the land needed to be leveled, there needed to be a pond, so on and so forth, right? So a part of his issue was people said, you should buy a home, and he did that. You check the box, but you didn't do the other parts of research that were necessary. I think all too often, we say, you need to do this, you need to have a savings account or emergency fund, you need to buy a home, renting is bad. It may be good for person A, and person B, there may be a variation. I'm a renter. Maybe I don't need an emergency fund, maybe I'm focusing on paying a credit card off or paying out a student loan right now. There is truly no one size fits all, and I think we really have to be intentional about when we're saying that to people, and people have to internalize that to figure out what works best for them. Not to say that you can't explore these opportunities and prepare for the future, but truly, what makes the most sense for you right now. And that might also be having a financial advisor, having someone come up with a plan for you because you know you don't understand all of the moving pieces on the board that are opportunities for you.

Sam, you brought up the health savings account. So I'd say about 10 years ago, I was having a conversation with my financial planner, and she said to me, at the age that you are now, you keep putting the maximum amount in your HSA and just let it sit there. You have it there for an emergency, but have it there for retirement when you don't have money coming in. And see, I wouldn't have thought about it that way. I thought about it back then, I was in my 50s, and I'm thinking to myself, okay, I've built money in my HSA, then I'll just keep using it when I go to the doctor, and she said, if you don't have something serious, let it sit there because it is gaining interest in the kind of plan that I have set up for the company. But again, not everybody may think that way or know it because they need advisors or people around them, or I've had employees that don't get the HSA, and I'm thinking to myself, why would you not get that? So I've had conversations with employees over the years, even though I can't tell them what to do, I really put it out there, here are these benefits. They're here for you to use. So if you don't understand them, then ask me or let me put you in touch with the broker who would give you better information because they may not have people close to them that are giving them, perhaps, the advice that they would need. Not that it’s bad advice, but they may not get it. So it doesn't always matter how old you are. I think part of the conversation for equity is we need to ask questions and understand, okay, with what I have, how can I grow what I have, work with what I have, what's in front of me, and then go to the next level?

Yeah, I agree. I think your point about talking to your employees, I mean, it goes right back to Aquiera's point about, let's invest and educate the people who work for us and find out what they need. And Akira, I love your pivot about there's no one size fits all. Everybody's an individual. Your specific example about talking with people about what they need, and what's best for them, is it buying a house, is it something else, or whatever it is? One of the things I love about that is you keep people centered on what do they want? What do they want? There's something very liberating about renting, on a level. I've probably rented more than I've home owned. I've done a different combination of them. It's just like, where are you at? What's going on? What do you want? What makes sense for you? I think that’s so important to have people's desires and what they want out of their own life centered at everything around any kind of conversation about navigating financial matters and engaging in the economy. If we separate it from that, it's not that entrepreneurial, if we're not adapting it to every single individual, and really what makes that person tick? What's important to them? Also, I covet how early you discover the power of the employer match. I just did not discover it nearly as early as you. Hat tip. That's going to pay off so beautifully. But yeah, I mean, really talking to people about what do they want? There's not going to be any consistency across answers. They're going to be very anchored in people's individuality. And that's where their strength is going to be. Just like we talk about in health equity, meeting our patients where they are. 



We have these sometimes, and especially in communities of identity, we have these ideas about monoliths. Everyone thinks the same. Everyone subscribes to the same political point of view, which is never true in any community or even, probably, in a room of three people. I think, sometimes, this gets in the way of our ability to leverage and talk about generational wealth. I think in the LGBTQ community, there's some big problems there, some mythology that we're somehow monolithic, and really, if you think about our community as a demographic, most people just assume that it skews to extreme wealth. And that's just not actually accurate. Does wealth and economic strength exist in the community? Yes, it does. And so does poverty and so does everything in between. And I think that that's true for every community of identity. I think that gets in the way, sometimes, because I can remember being in boardrooms and big companies talking about supplier diversity. Invariably, someone would say, are the gays really rich? I'm sorry, I'm mocking that person. But you hear it so many times and you can’t help it. And then it's like, well, LGBTQ people contain a lot of different types of people. Like, let's really talk about this and understand that it's not all the same. To get companies to get past thinking about our buying power because we're not just consumers, we're also potentially drivers of economic strength, we are leaders and executives, we're business owners, and we're also, young couples that are struggling, raising children.

Right. And grandparents.

And grandparents. And facing challenges because of those dynamics. I think that's really important when we're talking about economics and making sure that everybody has a seat at the table. Just let go of all these monolithic ideas that we have about any particular diverse segment.

Well, we need to start wrapping up, unfortunately, because I think we could probably easily go for another hour or so on this conversation because it's always so rich. So I think that this topic will always be in every season that we have for Room at the Table.

Do we get credit for that? Because I'm interested in this. Are we going to become a sequel?

Of course.

I love it.

We can. We can, yeah, absolutely.

I would love that.

So what I'd like to do, Aquiera, I'll start with you. So, closing thoughts for our listeners on this topic. What do you recommend? What do you see? What passionate nugget are you going to leave the listeners?

I will leave the listeners with two of my favorite quotes. One, I'm in the business of knowing people, the power of networking. You hear that adage, “your network is your net worth.” And then, a quote from Oprah, whatever her 2018 commencement speech is, “When the time comes to bet on yourself, I hope you double down.” For anyone thinking about entrepreneurship, I hope you double down. If that's what you want. Go for it.

Excellent. Sam?

I should have gone first. Double down, I love it. I love that. I get asked about career advice and business advice from time to time, and I've found that I've really stuck to one answer for a long time, and I'm going to stick with it, even though I wish I'd known that Oprah quote, because double down, I’m going to add that. It's about curiosity and imagination. I think we're given so many very traditional playbooks for our careers and how we design our lives. I really think the most successful people I've known are curious and they follow their curiosity. They're like, oh, I'm wondering about that, I'm going to read a book about that, I'm going to maybe read 10 books about that. And then imagination. When people start to have a vision of something that they want to see, it's a change in the world, or it's a change in a certain business landscape, or it's a change in their own lives, to have the courage to be, I'm curious about this, I'm going to learn about this, I'm imagining this other thing, I'm going to start taking steps toward that thing, even when it goes against conventional wisdom. It's still almost always the right thing. As humans, we're given this incredible gift of curiosity. And it's that little voice that's actually trying to tell you what to do next, and I just think we should never ignore that voice. Stay curious. If you imagine something different, make it different. If you see change, drive that change. And you know, there's so many rewards that come from that. These are still the two things that keep me going every single day. So I'll go with that.

And I think that's beautiful. I'm so grateful to both of you because you have such a wide breadth of experience, the passion, what you give to the community, not just the LGBT community, what you both give to everyone who comes on your path because you're about forwarding dreams, you're about making things happen and doubling down. So I appreciate you both. My piece of wisdom that I want to leave our listeners with is to show up, even on the days when you don't want to. Those are probably the days that the best magic will happen, but show up. So Aquiera and Sam, thank you so much for being here, and I look forward to our continued conversations on financial equity. So thank you.

Right back at you. 

Thank you so much.

Thank you for joining us. And if you enjoyed this episode, please follow Room at the Table on your favorite platform and share with a colleague or two or three. You can find the full transcripts, links and more resources to creating more equitable workplaces at

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