Jun 10, 2021

Perspectives on Diversity and Inclusion from a Wealth Architect

Jun 10, 2021
Leigh Shimamoto – JD, CFP®
Wealth Architect
Wealth Architect Leigh Shimamoto, JD, CFP®, is a fourth-generation Japanese-American, born and raised in the Bay Area. During World War II, her grandmother was detained at an internment camp while her grandfather served the U.S. Army overseas. The two met in San Francisco after the war, started a family, and built a business together.

Despite facing enduring discrimination and hardship, the entrepreneurial pursuits of Leigh’s grandparents never wavered and they set an example that inspired her work ethic and dedication to helping others. We sat down with Leigh to learn more.

How did you decide to become a financial planner?

My parents urged me to become a dentist like my father and brother. They saw it as a respectable line of work with less bias against women and people of color than many other professions. I decided to become a lawyer instead. But soon after I got my degree, I discovered the world of financial planning and how rewarding it could be to help others in that context.

My dad advised against this career move, warning me that finance was a white, male-dominated field and I’d be fighting to succeed every step of the way. I was up for the challenge, though, and I’ve now worked in the financial arena for two decades and my goal is to help foster change. Outside of the office, I volunteer to promote financial literacy, organize women-oriented industry events and serve on the board of a non-profit that has facilitated meaningful diversity and inclusion in their ranks.

What are your niche areas of expertise at Wealth Architects?

At Wealth Architects, I focus on wealth planning for affluent professionals, which includes executive and equity compensation, as well as planning around philanthropy and charitable giving. I’m also especially passionate about serving our female clientele and helping serve their unique needs in achieving holistic well-being.

How has it been working in an industry that has traditionally not valued diversity?

There have been obstacles for me as a female of color, but overall it has been a positive and affirming experience. I’ve noted that financial planners from diverse backgrounds often excel because of their differences, not despite them. Clients often gravitate towards advisors whom they feel in some way are reflective of themselves. In that sense, diversifying the financial planning workforce is also helping the industry to serve and connect with a more diverse clientele.

There is so much more to one’s identity than gender or race alone, of course. But, I see my being an Asian-American woman in this space as providing more potential points of relatability when prospects consider working with us. When they see some of themselves in me – as a fellow woman, or person of color, or mom, for example – I believe they feel more confident that I truly get them. This dynamic can help build trust and create a more meaningful and effective financial-life planning relationship.

You said you are particularly passionate about serving women. Tell us more.

Regardless of gender, my goal is always to cultivate that solid initial connection with a client into a deeper working relationship over time. However, I really do cherish my work with female executive clients. In both my personal and work lives, I find that the dynamic of female executives supporting and learning from each other is so important. For years, I hadn’t had an opportunity to work with many female colleagues or clients, which was part of my decision to join Wealth Architects in 2020.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’ve noted serving women? 

One of the challenges I often take on with women clients is negotiating competitive compensation packages and navigating equitable pay. I do this work for clients of all genders, but given that women are paid 18 percent less than men, there is a more acute need for thorough and informed preparation among female professionals. My process is both scientific and emotional. I arm my clients with the best research and data points I can find to highlight their true market value. I also do my best to mentally pump them up to get ready to advocate for themselves confidently and effectively.

I embrace one-on-one coffee outings with female clients, to get to know each other better. Those conversations generally contain fewer questions about earnings and investment goals, and more discussion about who they are, where they came from, their family values, and so on. Understanding their whole person and the bigger picture of what they want out of life positions me to advise them as successfully as possible. 

It gets my wheels turning and excites me to think through all of the resources I have in my repertoire, within Wealth Architects and outside of it, that might enrich a client’s unique financial and professional endeavors. Whether it’s making a key introduction or inviting them to an interesting event, facilitating these kinds of valuable synergies is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. To me, that is helping them to build a wealthier life and it’s why I love what I do.