Sonya Dreizler and Liv Gagnon are the Founders of Choir, the financial services industry’s first diversity certification program for conferences. Choir is focused on amplifying the voices of women, non-binary people, and people of color in the financial services industry.
Sonya Dreizler is a speaker, writer, and consultant dedicated to fostering conversations about gender and race in financial services. Her 20 years of industry experience include 14 years in traditional financial and investment roles. Before founding Solutions with Sonya and co-founding Choir, Sonya served as the President and CEO of Protected Investors of America. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Liv Gagnon is a media relations specialist, PR consultant, and branding expert who has helped many companies launch into the public eye. She is the founder of Portaga Creative, a brand messaging and strategic communications consultancy that serves financial companies driven by social value. After graduating from Belmont University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, Liv worked with several organizations in public relations, including DVL Seigenthaler and FiComm Partners.
Sonya and Liv join me today to discuss the importance of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in wealth management and financial services. They share their backgrounds and describe how they met and founded Choir. They explain how Choir is helping standardize representation in wealth management and financial services conferences through their pledge and certification programs. They also underscore the value of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in any industry and highlight how conference organizers and allies can contribute to the effort.
“In finance, we’ve heard a lot of the same type of voice for a long time, but, just like a choir, we can better serve the industry and the public when we hear from everybody’s voices and perspectives.” – Sonya Dreizler
This week on The Model FA Podcast:
● How Sonya began her career in the broker-dealer and RIA industry
● The values Choir is founded upon as a company
● Liv’s background and her journey to starting her own branding and PR consulting firm
● What Choir is, its mission, and how Sonya and Liv came up with the company’s name
● The Choir pledge and certification program for conferences
● Changing the financial services industry’s perception of diversity and representation
● How Choir is spreading awareness on diversity, equity, and inclusion in wealth management and financial services
● Why industries should care about representation
● How conference organizers can help advance the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry
● Where Sonya thinks conferences are heading in the next few years
● Book: Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones
● Book: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
● Book: Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
● Book: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
● Book: Will by Will Smith
● Book: Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins
Our Favorite Quotes:
● “Avoid doing something purely for the purpose of checking the box; you have to have the right intention around it.” – David DeCelle
● “Representation is not just ‘nice to have.’ It’s good for business and moving an industry forward; it brings new perspectives that drive innovation, new technologies, new networks, and entire communities we’re looking to serve.” – Liv Gagnon
● “It’s tough to care about something you can’t see, feel, or touch. Verbalizing your mindset is always helpful.” – David DeCelle
Connect with Choir:
● Email: [email protected]
Connect with Sonya Dreizler:
Connect with Liv Gagnon:
About the Model FA Podcast
The Model FA podcast is a show for fiduciary financial advisors. In each episode, our host David DeCelle sits down with industry experts, strategic thinkers, and advisors to explore what it takes to build a successful practice — and have an abundant life in the process. We believe in continuous learning, tactical advice, and strategies that work — no “gotchas” or BS. Join us to hear stories from successful financial advisors, get actionable ideas from experts, and re-discover your drive to build the practice of your dreams.
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President of Model FA, David DeCelle
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I think that the piece that maybe all of us need help with is to step back and reimagine what things could look like. Stop looking at what things are right now and thinking that's the way things have to be. Whether that's, like Liv said, a legal language, or whether it's who's on stage or how conferences look like, how they're organized, and all the pieces that go into it; just taking a path and reimagining what is possible. If everybody did that, I think we move forward in really faster and more interesting ways that engage more people and ways that are better for our whole industry.
David DeCelle 00:49
Welcome Model FAs, David DeCelle here, president of Model FA and the host of the Model FA podcast. Appreciate you all joining us today. Really excited for both of our guests today. It's a topic that we haven't covered here on our show, nor do I think our industry does a great job in covering in general, and Sonya and Liv are change agents for this. I'm excited to highlight both of them, their company, their stories, and their vision today. Going to ask a lot of questions, a lot of which are maybe uncomfortable for me to ask, and I would imagine uncomfortable for you to ask given the topic and the fact that this isn't discussed a lot. So hopefully, this conversation is eye opening for myself, as well as all of you. And without further ado, Sonya Dreizler is an author and a speaker, and an outspoken advocate for racial and gender equity in financial services. She has a 20 year history in the field, including as a broker dealer, and an RIA executive. Liv Gagnon is a media relations specialist, public relations consultant, and a branding expert who's helped dozens of companies launch into the public eye with a focus on social value. So I had been connected for a little while with Sonya on Twitter, actually. It's just amazing to me how we can be recording a podcast right now just by seeing someone's tweets every so often. As I was observing your tweets, I realized that it was a topic that I had never really paid a ton of attention to, didn't have a lot of awareness around, and quite frankly, the amount of tweets that you tweeted, for lack of a better way to put it, really shows — or showed to me anyways — your passion and commitment to this topic. So I shot you a DM and said, hey, why don't we have you on the show? You said, let's bring on Liv as well, and here we are. So with that, Sonya and Liv, welcome to the show.
Sonya & Liv
Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Of course. So I don't know who wants to get started. I guess Sonya, your name appears first on my end, so perhaps we can just start with you. You have some background in the broker dealer space as well as the RIA space. I guess, kick us off with a little bit about your background, like how'd you get started in this industry in general, and then bring us up to where you are now. And we'll unpack that a little bit further, once we have Liv do the same.
All right, that sounds good. Well, first, thanks for having us on. It's a pleasure for us today to see you. So I started in the industry, I had just moved to San Francisco at a time that was not a very good time to get hired right out of school. That was post dot com bust, and there were not a lot of jobs. And so I worked a few different jobs that were terrible, honestly, and was taking any interview I could get. So when I got an interview to be an executive assistant to the CEO of a broker dealer, I took it even though I wasn't interested in being in finance. She offered me a job on the spot, and I said yes. My negotiation skills were not so great back then. It was a good job. I told her I wasn't wanting to be in finance long term. She asked me to make a one year commitment. And I said, okay, fine, I can do that. And then I stayed. I stayed at that company for a very long time. She had a lot of faith in me and kind of threw me right into the deep end. I had no finance experience, but she put me into…I was the liaison between all of our advisors and Advent back office services for performance and portfolio reporting. And so you had to learn really fast all of the terminology around investments, and I didn't even know equity and stock was the same thing. I had to learn that on the job. Anyways, my boss had a lot of faith in me and just had an open door to answer questions, and she moved me from the department essentially reorganizing each area with my outside perspective, making things more efficient, more streamlined. Eventually, after many, many years, I became our Chief Operating Officer, which is a natural fit. Did that for about five years, and then when the CEO left, sort of unexpectedly, I, and the board was doing an executive search. I threw my hat in the ring for that role, and I got it. So I became CEO of the same company on the other side of the desk where I had been initially hired 13 years before. I know that’s like a very cool career story, and it sounds so linear when I tell it in two minutes, and it absolutely wasn't. I also applied to other jobs because I was not seeing my path, and decided not to take them. I went and got my CFP designation and tried taking clients and realized that was not for me. So although the A to B looked straight, there were a lot of other sort of detours along the way. But it was a ton of great experience, a really good way to learn the industry. It was a BD-RIA hybrid, and then we sold that firm in 2016. I started consulting in the ESG and SRI space, and I had a lot of expertise there, and also writing and speaking on that topic. And as I sort of got my independence and my feet underneath me as an independent consultant, I started talking more about the things that I was really passionate about: race and gender, and tying it in to financial services. After spending so much time in financial services, seeing race and gender inequities play out in our field, I thought I'd start writing about it and start talking about it. That's been my main focus for the past few years. It's how I met live and how we got — is one of the basis for Choir, one of the things that the Choir builds on. So I’m going to let Liv tell her story, and then we can talk about what we do at Choir.
David DeCelle 06:55
Love it. I was going to say there's probably a justification to have an entire podcast episode on journey from, the analogy is, going from sweeping the floors to running in the company. So I think that there's a lot of stuff in there. I know that that's not our main focus today. But I think it helps with our audience to help set the stage and give a sense as to your background and credibility in the industry. So I appreciate you sharing that.
Liv, over to you, something similar in terms of some background up to Choir, and then we'll start to unpack what Choir is.
Sure, I'll give the full story which I don't believe I have yet on a podcast episode. So my background is entirely in PR and media. I went to school for actually audio production, and I switched over to PR pretty quickly. After college, I was working down in Nashville at more of a generalist PR agency. And this was kind of like, I want something bigger, I want to move to a bigger city, and my family was in upstate New York. So I quit my job and moved to New York City without a job, without very much money in savings. So you can imagine the leap to the cost of living in Nashville, and then moving right to Brooklyn; it was a shock. I moved to the city and met a recruiter and asked, can you find me a PR job? The only industry I don't want to work in is financial services. Because my experience in financial services at my generalist firm was that I was telling kind of, to me, the same stories over and over. It wasn't, you know, I didn't see a lot of excitement, I hadn't been able to dig deeply. And so of course, the first job she sends me is working at a startup PR agency focused squarely on financial services. And I like, I would be a fool not to take a job, living in New York City. So I took it, and I really entered into the whole world of wealth management I working with — also at a PR firm that at the time was tiny, it was in startup mode. So had a ton of responsibility really quickly. I was working, I'm like a 24 year old working with CEOs of large mega RIAs and huge fintech providers, and just really taking it all in and saying, you know, let's do this. And a couple years into that, I started just realizing, as I was trying to tell the stories of these clients, that were putting the same stories in the spotlight over and over. It's such a male dominated field, and anytime I got to work with a client who was a woman or who was underrepresented in any way, I was just drawn to those stories because they were different. Those are the stories I wanted to tell, but the way the whole process worked with these mega companies, I was putting the same people in front of these reporters time and time again. And around that time that I was second guessing, is this the field I want to be in, I hit a really significant milestone in my life. My mom got sick and passed away over the course of eight months, and that was really traumatic. It was a huge, life-changing experience, obviously, and it made me think at such a young age, younger than probably most have to ask this question, what is the purpose of what I'm doing? Do I go into my job every day and think, I'm making an impact on the world or even on one person? And I remember being on the subway, that commute from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan every morning. I remember being on the subway and I just looked around at everyone sitting there, which you don't really do as a New Yorker. You never really look at people. And everyone just seemed like they were dreading going into work like I was. And I just thought, like, why? What is this for? And I'm the type of person that when I get something in my head, it just doesn't leave. I got to the office, went into a corner of a WeWork building and searched how do you start an LLC, and I can do this myself. And in 2018, I left a good job in New York, I sublet my apartment, and I started my own company doing branding and PR messaging for organizations that I felt just had such a big story to tell and I wanted to tell it. I was able to start working with folks who really were at that intersection of social impact and finance and how finance is truly changing the world. That was what I was doing when I met Sonya. I was working, leading my own consulting firm, and we just quickly became connected and were fast friends. And that kind of led us to starting Choir and the idea for Choir was born about a year ago.
David DeCelle 12:09
Love it. I appreciate you sharing that with me. And I also love hearing the stories of someone who's working at a, quote unquote, nine-to-five and what that moment was that prompted you and gave you the courage to go out on your own. So hearing about the subway visual that you had, everyone heads down, headphones in and just minding to themselves. And as you put it, kind of dreading the commute, so to speak, and heading to perhaps their BS jobs that they're stuck in. And then just starting off from scratch with Googling how to form an LLC is pretty cool. So I appreciate you sharing that. So bring us up to present day, Sonya, I'll go back to you. And I'm going to try and manage, obviously, this conversation appropriately in terms of volleying back and forth, but feel free to jump in; if I'm not calling on you, of course, just jump right in. But Sonya, I guess, give me a sense of what Choir is. I'm also curious how you came up with the name itself.
I'll start with the name, that's all Liv’s brilliance. And then there's a lot of different, a variety of interpretations and meanings behind it, and you'll see some of them in some of the subsections of the work that we do. But the idea behind the name is that in finance, we've heard a lot of the same type of voice for a long time. And just like the Choir, we think that we're able to better serve the industry and the general public when we hear from everybody's voice and perspective, a wider variety. So that's where the name comes from, and what Choir is, we're a diversity tech company. We're on a mission to lift the voices of women, non-binary folks, people of color, and especially women of color, financial professionals on conference stages, and in the media. We do that with three different offerings. The reason we have three is so that anybody who wants to, who works in financial services, who cares about this issue, can also join us and be a part. So the first one, best known now, is that we have the first conference diversity certification for financial services conferences. And so we work with conference organizers on that and conference organizers and their companies. The second is a platform that connects women and people of color, financial professionals, with opportunities on stage and in the media. And the third is pledge of solidarity that allies, and really anyone in finance can take, and we are happy to chat about any or all of those three today, depending on which ones you think would be of most interest to your podcast listeners.
David DeCelle 14:58
Yeah, and I'm just going to spitball. We prepared the topics on our intro call. But I purposely did not prepare questions for today because I wanted to just ask what came to mind and keep it super fluid and conversational and sincere. So I guess one of my first questions, and I'm going to stop calling on either one of you, just jump in as you will, but how does someone get certified with your program or with your company? And what I mean by that is not so much the, well reach out to us and then we have a call, and then we do that. I mean more so mean, what are the qualifications to be certified? And that will probably hit home as to what the point is with the certification as well. So help me understand what that qualify or the qualifications are.
Okay, this is Sonya again, and I'll take that one. So very briefly, the certification is an objective data, a certification for conferences, and we certify them by looking at the previous year's agenda, and looking at all the speaking spots, how visible each speaking spot is. We look at each one on seven different visibility factors and rate them on, each speaking spot, on those factors, cross reference with race and gender to create a score. That is grossly oversimplifying, but that's it. And the score quantifies how well a conference includes and highlights the voices of women and people of color, and non-binary folks, and specifically women of color, in comparison to their representation in the US population.
David DeCelle 16:37
Maybe I'm confusing this with the pledge, but wasn't there like one-third or two-thirds or something, some fractional component to X percentage of folks fitting the categories that you just laid out? What is that exactly?
Yep. So the pledge, let me a clarify, they are definitely related, because they're both about conferences, but they are very different. The certification is something that a conference can apply for and work with us to get it. The certification, of course, includes a seal that shows that they're certified and also includes a lot of guidance and tailored tools from us. The pledge is a public pledge of allyship and solidarity that anyone in the industry can take saying that they will only go to or speak at or sponsor conferences that meet four specific criteria. We can talk about those criteria. But what I want to say about the relationship between the two is the pledge is really a baseline. We wanted to make it accessible, so that conferences that wanted to meet pledge standards, but maybe weren't ready to get certified, could do that in a reasonable fashion. The pledge date isn't until July, so they have some time to make things happen. And it's really a baseline — the pledge is not the gold standard. It is a baseline that everybody can agree to and say, okay, this is the minimum that we all need to be doing. And then the certification incorporates all the pieces of the pledge and is much more, I would say more stringent, and also offers a lot more in terms of data and consulting tools and guidance. Liv, do you want to fill in some there?
Yeah, so I would say and just a note on the certification and the pledge. When we were designing Choir, one of the main issues that really came up in our research was that there had never been a standard, a common standard in our industry, for what representation means. We've never defined what that word means. And so the pledge, like Sonya said, is really that baseline like, okay, if anything, if you can't put this conference through the certification, what can I at least see and make sure before I attend. And that’s if conference has more than three or more keynote speakers, at least one of those speakers is a woman or person of color; they have diversity, either women or people of color on all panels. They have an enforced anti-harassment policy, and women of color are represented throughout the agenda, not just on panels about DEI. That was one other trend that, in all of our interviews with folks around the industry, that we saw happens a lot is that women of color in particular, and men of color as well, are often put, they're experts in crypto or in ETFs. They're then put on panels to talk about being a person of color in the industry. And so we wanted to really use these criteria to also change the way that our industry thinks about representation. It's been wild to see over the last month, the reception of the pledge in particular. And one of the things that we've heard from so many people is, oh my gosh, now when I look at conferences, I just can't unsee it. I look at conferences with that criteria in my mind now. And that's exactly what we want. We're really changing the narrative around what representation really means.
David DeCelle 20:29
So all that stuff makes sense. Now what I'm trying to figure out is, you have our industry, which predominantly is a bunch of older white dudes, to put it in layman's terms. And a lot of times people are habitual and stuck in their ways and unwilling to change like in their eyes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, again, through their purview. So how do you start to get these people, including myself, how do you start to get us to care about what you're doing? Outside of relying on the fact that like, I'm a good human being, and I would like to be doing the right things, but how do you catch my or their attention and say, hey, here's why this is so important. And here's the impacts positively it can have on you, or here's the impact negatively that it could have if you don't do this. Help me understand some of that stuff.
There was something you said in there that wasn't exactly part of your question that I want to address. You were saying, yeah, I'm a good human, and I want to do something about this. But it's like you also said, it’s not totally like front of mind for you. Right? You said it's not been on your radar a lot before. We hear that from a lot of folks, including white men, yeah, I know, this is important. This is something I care about, and I don't like, what can I do? I don't know what to do.
David DeCelle 21:52
I'm sorry to interject, but I’m interjecting with a compliment so it's worth it. Like you just said, it's not top of mind for me at all. And quite frankly, the only reason right now that it has become top of mind is because I came across your tweets, and here we're having this conversation. So maybe that's the answer is just more awareness. But sorry to interject, keep going.
No, but you're absolutely right. It's more awareness. And so, we're on a mission to spread the word about that, and part of that is the pledge, which has helped, been unintentionally a bit of a marketing campaign for Choir. It's helped spread awareness as people have signed, and then told everybody else that they've signed. The reason we created the pledge was exactly for folks like you who, good person, I care about this. It's not top of mind, and I don't really know, I don't really know what to say. Yeah, I've been invited to speak at things, so I told them, make sure there's women on the agenda. People just don't know what words to say or what to use. So we created the pledge exactly for that reason, so that well intentioned allies could sign it. And if somebody asks them to attend a conference or speak at a conference, they can say, I would love to speak at your conference. I am a signatory to the Choir pledge, and it has these four requirements. You can just link to the pledge or tell them the requirements. Can you tell me if the conference will be meeting these four requirements? And if so, absolutely, count me, I'd love to be there. So we really want to give that really easy tool for allies to use so they didn't have to figure out how to navigate what are kind of awkward and difficult conversations. Especially for white people, talking about race can be really, really hard. And so just giving the words and the tool thing, I signed, can you meet these things? And kind of pointing to Choir as the reason if it's hard to say, I won't do it unless you do XYZ. We want to make it really easy. To answer your bigger question, Liv, do you want to take that question?
Yeah, I love that question. Besides it just being a nice thing to do, why should it be on our radar? And I think that's such a fair question because often, especially for white men in the industry, when you're not a part of, when you don't experience the problems, or when you're not centered in that conversation around representation, it can be hard to see. It's like you don't know what you don't know, right? You don't see it, because it's not part of your everyday consciousness. And it's the very reason that Choir is a for-profit business and not a side project or a nonprofit or a social network. Its representation is not just nice to have. It's good for business. It's good for moving an industry forward. It brings new perspectives drives that drive innovation, drive new technologies, new networks, new entire communities that we're looking to serve. Having endless statistics out there around how companies with diverse boards perform better than those that are homogenous. And the same can be said for conferences. We interviewed over 100 people throughout last year; speakers, conference organizers, journalists, executives, people across the industry. And we found that as the event space is becoming more saturated, folks — and especially post pandemic, or hopefully post pandemic — folks are really thinking harder about what events they want to attend, where they're going to put their time, money, and resources. And what we found is that people are looking to attend events where they feel like they're part of that event, where they hear their voice on stage, or they resonate with perspectives that maybe they haven't heard before. They want to attend events that don't have the same people speaking over and over again. So having a partnership like Choir, where you can really look and say, this is exactly how we are putting action to our promise, this is where we stand, this is our Choir score, we're committed to representation, and here's a very transparent look at how it's good for business. It's good for drawing people in. And the other part of that is, on the flip side, one thing we've seen especially in the last couple of years is a rise on social media of people noticing when conferences are a panel of six white men, or a keynote lineup is entirely white men. People are noticing that and feeling more comfortable, I think now, to call it out. So we've seen companies get into PR snafus over having a diversity panel that is all white men talking about diversity. To be clear, that's not us calling people out, it’s just what we've seen throughout the industry. So having language, having data, insights from that data to point to is incredibly helpful, and can also work really well with an organization's existing DEI efforts.
Patrick Brewer 27:31
Hey, Model FAs. I know you're enjoying this conversation, but I wanted to take a quick break to talk to you about the Model FA Accelerator. This is a unique collaboration between us and you, where we help you build a financial advising practice that you can be proud of. We focus on the foundational concepts around how to pick a niche or a specialization, how to price your services, how to construct an offer that people are going to buy, and then how to market it and sell it in a way that'll get people to sign on the dotted line and become clients of your firm, all while giving you the information to scale, and set up workflows and operational processes that will allow you to reclaim your time and build a practice that doesn't run you. So if you'd like to hear more about that, go to www.ModelFA.com/accelerator or www.ModelFA.com. Hover over Work With Us and click on Accelerator. Hope to see in the program.
David DeCelle 28:22
Now how do you acknowledge or pat someone on the back so to speak? Or maybe you don't do that when there's progress on their part but maybe not perfection. So what I mean by that is, and I don't know if these are like set in stone ratios or numbers, but Sonya, you used an example of if you have three keynote speakers having at least at a minimum one of them fitting the categories that we've been talking about. So I think about someone like me, and at our company at Model FA we have a workshop, a one day workshop that we do. And we're partnered up with some good sized companies like John Hancock and Orion rolling out these workshops this year. There's four speakers in our workshop, and it's an entire day long. It used to be when we first first rolled this out, it used to be three speakers and the speakers were my business partner Pat, Patrick Brewer, Dan Allison and his referral marketing approach that he’s been speaking about for the last 20 years, and then myself. All three white guys, and we ended up adding at the end of last year, Natalia, who's on our team, and she's fantastic. And one thing that we didn't do is we didn't sit around the table and say, hey, we need some additional representation here. It was Natalia is badass at talking about marketing. She's going to do this because we're not as good on that topic specifically regarding marketing that she is, but it wasn't a gender based decision. So, as I say that, oh, that's kind of cool that we didn't go out of our way to do it, but it happened organically. But also, it's below that, if I'm just again using that example, Sonya, of one-third. It's like, well, we're at 25%. So is it still like, I don't know if you guys are thinking this drastically so please correct me if I'm wrong — or maybe you are, and that's what's needed. Which is, if a conference doesn't fit certain criteria, is it almost like, hey, speak with your time and dollars and don't go? And they'll change when they realize that their attendance and their revenue is down. I guess what I'm trying to ask in too many words, is do you acknowledge progress to the destination that you're helping folks work towards? Or is that not good enough? It's like, nope, you gotta fix this right now. How do you think through that?
Yeah, that's a lot of questions in one. So first, when we're talking about conferences, it's typically not — I know it sounds like maybe linguistic parsing words, but I might call yours like a workshop or an event, not a conference. Do you call that a conference?
David DeCelle 31:11
No. So good clarification. So it's a workshop that tends to be plugged into a conference.
Okay, interesting. So it could be part of a conference. Of course, we would love to see workshops adopt similar standards. But right now, we are very focused on conferences. We someday would like to get to one day workshops and that type of thing. But right now, we're very squarely focused on conferences that are a little larger. So the pledge has these four things and conferences can meet them or not. We're not out there enforcing what conferences do. If they want to adopt, if they want to meet those four pledge standards, we hope they do. We think we made them accessible enough that they can and that that is possible. And the pledge is for attendees, speakers, and sponsors who go to conferences to say, I'm only going to conferences that meet these four qualifications. Here's my signature publicly about it. And not everybody wants to sign that; that's fine. Some people want to sign that and have that be a way of supporting and a way for them to assess and be able to have a discussion with conference organizers. So that is the pledge. What you're asking about is year over year progress. And so for conferences that we score, where we're working with them to certify them, if they want to share their score, they are welcome to. So for conferences, after they've gone through our process, they end up with either a sticker sort of seal that says that they are Choir committed, and they're working towards a more diverse lineup, or a certification bronze, silver or gold based on how high their score is. Bronze starts at 60. They also receive their score. And if they want to publish the score, use the certification seals, they are encouraged to do that. They don't have to, but if they want to be very transparent, and say last year, we got a 62, we got a bronze, we're really trying to increase our score year over year by 10%, or whatever it is. Then we watch and see how they do next year. And part of what Choir offers to conferences is tools and consulting feedback and guidance and introductions to help them increase their score year over year. And not just increase their score, but to change who we’re listening to, to put a wide variety of voices on stage.
Yeah, and I would add, I love the example of you talking about the three of you talking about who to put on stage. If we look at the big picture of what we're really trying to do, imagine more companies, perhaps they're led by all men, and they're sitting there trying to figure out who they want to put as keynotes on stage and throughout their events or workshops. And imagine that we've now started putting more and more new, brilliant voices on stage, whether it's panels, whether it's just a 10 minute mini presentation, whether it's keynotes. So when you're thinking of who do we want to have speak at our conference, when you're thinking of the people you've heard speak in the last year, that's such a wider variety of folks. You don't have to think, who can we put that's a woman, who can be — but it's your automatic consideration is so much more representative. And that's really where we want to lead the industry. We score and focus on speaker by speaker, what the visibility is and representation, but 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, if our industry is just that representative that we work ourselves out of business, that's great. That's what we want.
David DeCelle 35:18
If I remember correctly at the beginning, and I believe one of you had said this afterwards, so you also have speakers affiliated or on your platform, or whatever the terminology is that we want to use, so that if someone's like, yes, I want to help with this cause and I want to have a focus on this moving forward, but I have no idea where to begin.
Like conference organizers who don't have a network.
David DeCelle 35:46
It's like, you know who you know, type of thing.
Yes, we wanted to — when we started Choir and we were looking at, why are we hearing from the same people over and over? Like Liv said, we interviewed so many people and looked at a lot of things, and we found two main problems. There was no diversity or representation standard that anybody was aiming for. There was just nothing except just good intent. And the other issue we found with homogenous networks, it was a big problem. And so yes, we are working on solving that too. So coming next quarter, it's not live yet, is a platform to connect women and people of color, financial professionals, who are speakers, or who would like to be quoted by journalists with conference organizers, and journalists. And if there's folks who are listening who fit that description, they can check out on the Voices part of HelloChoir.com and introduce themselves. There's a little form there that they can fill out, and we'll let them know as soon as we are ready to go live with that. We're really excited.
David DeCelle 36:57
Awesome. Yeah, I'm sure I'll see it blasted on Twitter when it does go live. So I'll look forward to staying tuned to that. One of the things I want to avoid for myself, and I would like, based on this conversation, to help others avoid as well, is doing something purely for the purposes of checking a box, where it's like, alright, we did the bare minimum, we're good, right, and making sure that people have the right intentions around it. I think part of why conferences can be filled with the same people, in and out, is because these people have been speaking for years, and they're credible, and they've heard them speak before, and they know they're going to deliver good content. And the folks that you're serving on your platform next quarter, perhaps they have just as good of material, and they're just as dynamic in terms of speaking, they just haven't been given the platform before to be able to have their voices heard and be exposed to people like me to where it's like, I want that person at our conference. So my question then becomes, outside of the criteria of the categories we've been discussing, women, people of color, women of color, non-binary, folks, they got to fit that criteria to be on the platform for speaking, right?
And financial expertise.
And financial expertise. Yes. But beyond that, how do I know, if I'm a conference organizer, that they're legit? What sort of criteria do they go through for that?
Liv, do you on take that?
Yeah, that was a big part of why we interviewed so many conference organizers last year. What do you look for when you're looking for speakers? What gets in the way often of timing wise, you just have to go right back to someone that you've already talked to. And so the Voices platform, we're designing really to be just as beneficial for the voices, the experts that we have on the platform, and the conference organizers or journalists. So the voices can say how many years’ experience they have, if they’ve spoken, show us a video of you speaking, show us anything where we can get to know you quickly through this platform, so that we can start removing those barriers of, well, I haven't seen them speak before. I don't know how dynamic they are in stage.
Can I clarify that she means show conference organizers. So on Voices, you upload a video of you speaking at a conference or speaking to the camera to show your personality and how dynamic you are, and that's on your profile. So conference organizers can get a feel of your personality. Go ahead, Liv, I just want to clarify.
Oh, no, thank you for that. So to eliminate that back and forth, we want the voices to say, I would like to speak on panels, I'd like to speak on keynotes, I'd like to maybe just introduce a panel — to give more of that insight, too, to the organizer and say, okay, this is exactly where we can offer this speaker? Will they take unpaid speaking opportunities? Do they require a payment, what's the range? We really want to just make all of those discussions easier and more streamlined, so that folks can really start building their networks.
David DeCelle 40:30
Now, I really liked what you said a while ago. You said, ideally, you want to work yourselves out of business to where this is a natural occurrence, that it becomes second nature to the extent that you don't need to go out of your way to make sure that this happens. And I think that's really cool to envision. But let's say 20 years from now, that happens. What needs to happen between now and then above and beyond what you're doing now? What are some of those vision checkpoints that you have for Choir and for the industry to get to the point to where you're putting yourself out of business, so to speak? And how do people help with that? And maybe it is the three things that we outlaid already. I don't want to push you to come up with other stuff if it's, no, these are the foundational things that need to happen and need to be adopted by everyone in order to institute change. Maybe that's the answer. But what are your thoughts?
I do think those three things, and they can be through Choir, or companies can do them on their own, also. Being really thoughtful and measuring progress and visibility. And paying attention to the details of who we put on stage and where we put them on stage is the first one. Creating wider networks; intentionally working to have wider network. So that's what we do with the Voices platform, but everybody is welcome to do that on their own, of course, and the Voices platform serves actually just as an sort of an introduction. So we're not like a speaker's bureau or something like that. It's an introduction point so conference organizers will naturally expand their networks as they use Voices. Then the third one is allyship, from not just white men, but anybody who is committed to advancing the cause and willing to have conversations about it. Some version of those things as what we need to make change, and those could take a lot of different shapes. And we try to offer them that, and we do offer them at Choir, but they're available. It's all stuff that people could, in theory, do on their own.
Yeah. And I would add that we recognize that change takes time, and change is difficult. And it often requires being open to thinking about challenges in a different way, or bringing in new perspectives to think about those challenges. And we have been very clear about is challenges do not equal in possibilities. Because it's difficult to find more representative speakers on a certain topic doesn't mean it's impossible. Because it's difficult to incorporate the legal language that is right, in order to ensure that your engagements as a speaker follow the pledge criteria, or whatever it may be, those things are possible. And it's encouraging folks to just be open asking questions. How can we make this possible? What do I need to do? What am I not seeing, because I'm not part of those groups who are underrepresented? And so those are really important, I guess more qualitative things that we really hope Choir will help push forward and foster the right conversations, to address those things.
I love that, and I'll take one step bigger. I think the piece that maybe all of us need help with is to step back and reimagine what things could look like. Stop looking at what things are right now and thinking that's the way things have to be. Whether that's like Liv said, legal language, or whether it's who's on stage, or what conferences look like, how they're organized, and all the pieces that go into it. Just taking a pause and reimagining what is possible. If everybody did that, I think we'd move forward in a really faster and more interesting ways that engage more people and ways that are better for our whole industry.
David DeCelle 44:48
Love it. So before we pivot in a totally different direction, one kind of final question on this topic. Do you find yourselves ever getting to a point if, let's say, change isn't happening as quickly as you believe it to be possible, to where it becomes a frustration. Do you picture yourselves saying, screw it, we're doing our own conference, and we're going to show everyone how it's done? Or even thought about differently, if even before that point were to ever happen, you say, let's do a conference and model this out to show people what's possible? Has that been the point of consideration up till this point?
Listen, we are ideas people. So I don't know if there's anything that hasn't been considered that we've just thought about. I would never say never. However, I think putting on a conference is a lot of work. And our time and energy at the moment is being spent helping the conferences that already have that platform and are able to pivot and change. But I don't know if any entrepreneur goes on a podcast and says never.
David DeCelle 46:04
At our RIA, we put on a conference last, gosh, October maybe, out in Vegas, and Bonnie on our team, and Eric on our team who had organized and put that together, let's just say I wouldn't want to trade places with them. So I hear what you're saying in terms of the difficulty.
It’s so much work. Even when I was introducing myself, in my bio, I said how I did all these different things at my old firm. One of them was, one of the first things I started was event coordination for all of our events. And they were not even large, like some of the conferences that we're organizing, they have 60 people maybe total, and that alone, one day event for 60 people is a ton of work and coordination. It was just so that's definitely not top of mind, but definitely never say never, like Liv said, we are idea machines. And what's been interesting doing this work, even publicly just for a month, people have come to us with their own ideas of conferences that are really cool and interesting and so different from what we're seeing right now. So, I don't know, I think we're in for a treat in the next few years. I think conferences will look different and really change, and I'm really excited to be a part of that broader movement.
David DeCelle 47:34
Well, I wouldn't doubt it too. If throughout your conversations and connections, you build a relationship with a conference planner, and find out that they're passionate, and they want to institute these changes, but maybe they don't have support from above, so to speak. And they're like, you know what, let me just do this with you. And maybe you start finding some good quality people that aren't getting the support that they need to make these changes. So who knows?
You heard it here first.
David DeCelle 48:08
Awesome. Well, I think that was very helpful for me, because I think oftentimes, I believe myself to be a good person. But if something isn't top of mind and at the forefront, not that I don't care, but like, I don't care, because it's not top of mind. So it's tough to care about something that you can't see or feel or touch or whatever.
Totally, and especially at conferences like if somebody asks you to speak on a panel, often the first reaction is yeah, absolutely. I love that topic. I want to talk about that. And not yes, I'm interested in that. Can you tell me who else is speaking on the panel? And will it be a diverse and representative group? That's not a natural first step. And so we're hoping to, just with the conversations that we're having, encourage people to include that in their thinking, when it hasn't been a natural reaction before.
Yeah, I mean, the fact that you're asking us these questions now that you wouldn't have been asking a month, three months ago, is exactly why we're doing this work. And having more and more of these conversations, whether we're involved or they get some other group is having an organization based on one tweet that they've seen. That's really the work that we're in. So we appreciate you so much for asking these questions. And always just keep asking the questions. We're always here to answer them to direct people to resources. It's, I think, when we start being afraid to ask those questions, being afraid to say the wrong thing, or the uncomfortable thing, is when our industry hits a standstill, so whether it's you or just listeners, just keep asking those questions. We appreciate it.
David DeCelle 49:58
Love it. I think that welcoming mindset or verbalizing your mindset is helpful, because one of my biggest fears has always been to ask a dumb or insensitive question and get attacked because of it. So I feel as if, when things like this come up, I can come to my two new friends and say, what's the deal with this? So I appreciate it.
You're welcome too.
David DeCelle 50:22
So taking the hard pivot. For those of you who are listening to the show, if this is your first time tuning in, one thing that I ask all of our guests is to identify and explain why there's a book out there that happens to be one of their favorites. And I do so selfishly to distill a reading list for myself, because I like to read, but also to distill a reading list for all of you as well, because I know that there's so many different options. And cracking open a book or pressing play on Audible is a commitment. So wanting to make sure that we're refining that list as best as possible is important to me. So with that being said, Liv, I haven't heard of this book, but I really like the title because I consider myself in this category to a degree, if I'm judging a book by its cover, so to speak, and the title is Professional Troublemaker. Tell me why you chose that.
Yes, Professional Troublemaker. It's by Luvvie Ajayi Jones. If you're listening, if you don't follow Luvvie, she's freaking hilarious. She's just such an inspirational woman. And for anyone, this book is really about embracing your strengths, and what makes you unique, and what you can bring to your job, the world, your community, and about really sticking up for what you see that you know is wrong, or sticking up for what you believe in. And just going out there like a total badass. I've given this book to a lot of friends who are starting in their industries who feel imposter syndrome. She just brings this beautiful reminder to show up as yourself. This book is also a good entryway and just all of her content. She's just so inspirational and highly recommend even just following her on Twitter as a gift.
David DeCelle 52:22
After this conversation, I can appreciate the fact that you didn't just read the book, but based on what you shared, living the book as well. So it's cool to end the call with that and be like, oh, yeah, you're doing all that stuff that you just said, so that's pretty cool.
Sonya sent me my first copy of this book actually.
David DeCelle 52:43
Giving credit where credit's due. I love it. And Sonya, you identified a couple books, and I appreciate you doing so because I find that most guests will share a nonfiction book, but some people like to just unplug for a little bit and read fiction as well. So your nonfiction one is called Mediocre, and the fiction one, if I'm pronouncing it correctly, is Pachinko. Mm hmm. So tell me why you chose each of those.
Yeah, I love to read. In fact, I was an English major in college, and I would just read all day if I could, and mostly fiction, actually. Pachinko is historical fiction about Korea and Japan, and it is just a beautiful, incredibly written story about family and challenges. But I could not do it justice; if you want to get lost in a story, and for a very long time, because it's a long book, and it's beautiful book. It's by Min Jin Lee, who's just an incredible writer and can't recommend it enough. I might go read it again, which I rarely do, I read so much. I don't ever want to spend my reading time reading something I already read. But it's good, and it's one of the few books that I would pick up again. It's just incredible. And Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo is a really great book for people, especially after this conversation. If you've heard this conversation, you're like, oh, yeah, I see how there's these kind of systemic reasons why women and people of color are not included in a lot of financial services conversations to the extent that they should be. This book is just really great at explaining, chapter by chapter, the reasons behind why some of our systems are exclusionary and broken. And it's so interesting because the chapters are by different fields, so there's business and media and college and sports. It's just really, really interesting. She's an incredible writer. The first book I read of hers is So You Want to Talk About Race. It was an eye opening book for me as a white person navigating, talking about race, and really learning. There's nothing I have read or heard from her that has not opened my eyes and made me think about things in a bigger picture new way. And her way that she writes, it's not really like, it's not blaming, it's just explaining. It's explaining all of the history behind what has happened to get us to where we are today. So you have a better contextual understanding of the challenges that we face. And then also, with a better understanding, it's easier to be inspired to make changes to those systems.
David DeCelle 55:39
Love it, and the way that you said it was formatted. I don't want to say the mediocre book, the book Mediocre. The way that it’s format seems like, after you read through it, if you ever need a review, or remind yourself, you can just pick the chapter as like a standalone thing. So that's pretty cool.
That one I listened to on Audible, and it was great, so good. And then this is another one, it was so good on Audible that I bought the hardcover. But because of that, I wanted to be able to page through and review when something came up. I was like, oh, what did she say about that particular thing? Like college football came up? I'm like, let me go see what she said about that.
Even topics that you don't think you'd be interested in. Like, I could care less about sports, but every topic that she talks about in that book is so interesting, the history of it.
How about you? What have you read recently?
David DeCelle 56:31
Oh, my goodness, the best way for me to answer that is if you give me a topic, so I just grabbed my phone and my audible app, but like last year, I read over 100 books, the year before 170. So like, I'd say, I love to read, but I love to listen on Audible, at 1.5, 2X speed, depending on how they narrate. One that I've read recently, just because he brought in, there's a lot of really good stories, a lot of really good principles, like success principles, but he brought in his humor into it, and he narrates it himself is Will by Will Smith. That was the most recent one that I just finished. That was really good. I've read a lot. So if you said hey, what's your favorite book about such and such a topic? I'd be able to answer it, but there's too many to pick one without that. David Goggins book is really good, Can't Hurt Me. Again, I guess I'm finding that I like the way that they're formatted and narrated because he has a narrator — and this is all like mental toughness and persevering and all that. Like if you don't run through a brick wall after listening to this, then you didn't really hear it. And the way that it's formatted is they have the narrator narrating. And then at the end of every chapter, the narrator talks with David Goggins through a podcast style thing in between each chapter to debrief what they just read. I was like, that's super cool. Yeah, so that's called Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins. Then one of my guests earlier today, Shana, she had identified Think and Grow Rich, and I was like, that's a book I read every year just as like a friendly reminder as to the power that we have between our ears. So those are a few.
Great, I wrote them down.
David DeCelle 58:16
Love it. Awesome. So if I'm listening to this show, and I say, sign me up, I want to join the pledge. Or if I say, I don't know where to start, where do I go to learn? How do they get connected with you? How do they get connected with Choir? Where can they find you?
So you can go to our website, HelloChoir.com, probably the best place to have the whole overview of what we do. And when you're there, HelloChoir.com/pledge is where you can go and read the pledge and you can sign up right through there. You can go to HelloChoir.com/certified if you're interested in possibly getting your conference certified, and HelloChoir.com/voices is if you or someone you know is a woman, person of color, non-binary person who wants to talk to the media, or speak on conference stages, please go there. HelloChoir.com/voices you can sign up and answer a few questions. And you can find us on Twitter at HelloChoir, Instagram at HelloChoir. And Sonya and I’s handles are both to just our first and last name.
And if you're listening on your phone, and you don't want to do all that navigating, text, the word Choir to 55444 and that'll sign up for our newsletter.
David DeCelle 59:37
Love it. And all these links that were mentioned will also be in the show notes. So you’ve got a few different avenues to do that, but if you want to stay a little bit more in touch, text that number. Then for all of you who are listening who may not know how to start these conversations within your firms and with your peers, perhaps this podcast episode itself could be a good thing to share to break the ice and follow up on. So feel free, please, to share this episode, review this episode, that would help us out a lot. We found out recently that we're ranked in the top two and a half percent of all podcasts globally.
That's amazing. Congratulations.
Thank you so much, which is all due to our fantastic guests and everyone listening, being willing to share. So I have waited to take the pledge because I wanted to have this conversation first, and get a better understanding. I do have a podcast recording right after this, but I'm going to sign the pledge today. And you for those of you who do sign the pledge, if you take a screenshot of proof of that, then text that to me to 978-228-2338. You'll get an automatic reply with a link to fill in your first and last name, and then after that text it’s actually me corresponding with you. But if you send me that screenshot, we have a program called the Model FA Accelerator program, which is basically all the coaching and consulting that we provide, but in video form. So it's more of a do it yourself type of model. It's something that we charge for, but if you go ahead and take the pledge and shoot me a text with that confirmation, I'll go ahead and give you access to that program for free as a thank you for taking that.
That's awesome. Thank you.
You’re welcome. This was not shared. It was not planned. But I felt compelled to do that after this conversation. So appreciate the two of you. And for those of you who take me up on that offer, there's some people paying good money for it right now. So don't associate the fact that it's free with a lack of value. It's jam packed in value, and we're not holding anything back in there. So appreciate everyone tuning in. Sonya, Liv, appreciate your time, and I'm sure this won't be the last time that we chat, but appreciate you joining.
Thank you. This was such a wonderful conversation. Thank you for having us on.
David DeCelle 1:02:04
Yeah. Thank you. We would love to come back again.
Awesome. Take care.