Implementing diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace is a crucial business imperative, according to executives of Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Raymond James and Chase Wealth Management.

“We are the largest bank in the country and that comes with a responsibility,” Samuel Palmer, managing director and head of business development and strategy at Chase Wealth Management, said Wednesday at the CFP Board’s 2019 Diversity Summit in Washington, D.C.

Palmer said it’s hard to argue these days that there’s no “business imperative” to pursuing diversity and inclusion goals. After all, better diversity and inclusion numbers have translated to higher productivity and income.

Chase also believes it is a “moral imperative” to ensure its workforce is as diverse as possible, says Palmer.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon two months ago signed a proclamation that the firm is “moving from shareholder value to stakeholder value,” and that includes providing value for employees and clients, Palmer noted.

Other panelists at the session on “Why Diversity Matters” agreed with Palmer.

“We believe our business is people. Discussions about diversity and inclusion are just an extension of our culture,” Kim Jenson, chief operating officer and senior vice president of the private client group at Raymond James, said at the conference.

Jenson noted that Raymond James Financial CEO Paul Reilly also recently signed a proclamation — one that says the firm will be “intentional” when pursuing diversity and inclusion goals.

“The moral argument is clear,” Jenson said. Diversity and inclusion lead to “better decisions, better representation for clients” and even “more fun.”

Jenson said it’s critical that inclusion goals also be met because firms must “make it a great place [for minorities] to hang their shingle.”

Craig Young, executive director at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, said diversity reflects “who we are and what we value.”

Young said pursuing diversity and inclusion goals “is the right thing to do” and part of Merrill Lynch’s overall strategy.

“We value diversity from the heart -- that’s the moral imperative -- and from the head -- that’s the business imperative,” he said. “If wealth in our country has a complexion and gender, it has changed and that [change] will continue to accelerate.”

Echoing Jenson, Young said firms must “embrace” inclusion “to allow diversity to flourish.”

Ileana Musa, managing director for international wealth management at Morgan Stanley, said the need for “exceptional ideas” and the need to “put clients first” creates a “compelling reason why we need diversity.”

All the panelists said they have been able to pursue diversity and inclusion programs in their firms because of the support and advocacy of their senior leadership.

“Our CEO is fully committed,” Musa said. “It’s in our DNA. As a Latina woman, that’s why I joined the firm; I feel that they get me.”

The panelists stressed the need for “accountability” when pursuing diversity and inclusion goals, such as making these goals part of performance reviews.

Doing so would be the “litmus test,” Chase’s Palmer said. “Is it really a business priority?”

At Merrill Lynch, “diversity is a component of our overall scorecard,” Young said, without elaborating.

Chase’s Palmer stressed the need to be deliberate and circumspect when pursuing diversity and inclusion goals so “white men” don’t feel excluded or penalized.

“The danger of that [aggressively pursuing diversity and inclusion goals] is backlash, the risk of alienating white men,” Palmer said. “It’s very important to make sure that … we do it truly in an inclusive way,” he added.

Merrill Lynch’s Young said getting the cooperation of white men is important in pursuing diversity and inclusion goals. And pursuing diversity and inclusion while not disadvantaging white men also helps in terms of showing the minorities who are hired that “they are there truly because they deserve to be there” and not because they meet quotas, he said.