Want More Women Advisors?

Originally published in Financial Advisor Magazine.

While American women have achieved high levels of wealth in recent years, unless the financial planning industry changes, most of their assets will probably be advised by men.

According to a 2017 report from the BMO Wealth Institute, women in the U.S. now control $14 trillion in assets, more than half of the total personal wealth in the country—yet just 31.6% of the country’s personal financial advisors are women, according to 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Last year, the CFP Board pegged the proportion of women CFP professionals as stalled at just 23%. Other studies have suggested that the proportion of women in executive and board positions at major financial firms is even lower.

The relatively low levels of representation in the industry mean that young women interested in becoming financial planners may struggle to find mentors to help them develop their careers and supporters to recognize their achievements. It may also mean that women experience difficulty having their voices heard in the boardroom and in salary negotiations.

Women are more likely to become financial planners than men—according to 2017 research from Aite Group, 31% of the women in the financial services industry become planners, while only 21% of men become planners.

Among clients, women are more involved in financial decisions than ever. According to a recent Ameriprise study, 96% of women either share in financial decisions or are primary decision-makers themselves.

Women might be better suited than men not just for financial planning, but for financial leadership in general: Financial decisions normally include an emotional component that women advisors tend to address with empathy and directness. Behavioral studies often suggest that women are better at reading social cues and pay more attention to the pace and tone of their client’s speech. Some women are more comfortable with sharing their financial concerns with a female financial planner.

When Financial Advisor asked a diverse cross section of women in the financial industry what could be done to increase the percentage of women in financial planning roles, answers touched on cultural, social, financial and educational issues. While advocacy and mentoring programs like the CFP Board’s Women’s Initiative (WIN) have helped women better represent themselves and find trusted counselors, many women feel that firms fall short in providing the benefits and flexibility they desire.

What follows are the answers to the question: What are three things that need to happen for the number of women advisors to increase?

Eleanor Blayney, Member, Women’s Initiative (WIN)
Advisory Council
CFP Board Center for Financial Planning, Washington, D.C. 

1. Business leaders must hire for potential, not just experience. It’s a vicious cycle: Women lack experience, because there aren’t enough professional women. Broaden your reach and look elsewhere for other important skills that are markers of business success.

2. Recognize that diversity–gender, racial and generational–is becoming a business imperative. There is huge untapped wealth held by women and eventually by millennials, two markets somewhat distrustful of financial advisors. To earn that trust, make sure your staff is representative of the clients you seek to serve.

3. Realize that gender diversity and inclusion are not just a compliance or legal issue. Take it out of the human resources category and make it a top-of-house priority—measurable and compensable at all levels of management.

Lazetta Rainey Braxton, Founder and CEO, Financial Fountains LLC, Catonsville, Md.

1. Authentic diversity, inclusion, and equity engagement ensures that women are valued for their contributions. Recognizing the low percentage of female CFP professionals, firms should increase transparency with their recruitment and retention efforts.

2. Women in senior ranks signals the viability of career progression. Financial firms should closely evaluate the number of female partners and senior advisors, clearly define the promotion pathway, and constantly build the pipeline to ensure advancement in the industry.

3. Financial firms should adopt workplace provisions that promote universal flexibility. Women should not be compelled to request considerations that are applicable to any employee with personal obligations.

Katie Brewer, Founder and principal, Your Richest Life, Dallas, Texas

I’ve seen a lot of lip service, but not a lot of firms who want to do these things:

1. There are things that firms could be doing to make it a more family friendly industry in general that aren’t gender specific. Some of the big firms could have on-site day care, while smaller firms could be more flexible.

2. When I worked in a regional brokerage firm, I went to a Christmas Party in my first two weeks. I had not one, but three people walk up, totally ignore me and introduce themselves to my husband. I felt like I was in a time warp—but it was 2004.

3. It might take more effort than doing the usual: Proactively recruit women and minorities and institute mentoring programs. Firms can’t expect women to just show up.

Pamela Capalad, Founder and financial planner, Brunch and Budget, Brooklyn, N.Y.

1. Put women in a place to feel empowered about money. Shift from financial literacy to financial capability. Fear of money is prevalent among women because of the jargon and negative experiences in finance and investing.

2. Hiring more women advisors is a good business decision. Women clients view working with women advisors as a validation of their concerns. Women have the instinct to feel empathy. Emotions are connected with money for many women, and human emotion plays a big part of being an advisor.

3. Scholarships for women entering college or taking the certification courses would be a big boost. More young women entering college are viewing finance as a viable career in the next five to 10 years.

Janet Cowell, CEO, Girls Who Invest, New York, N.Y.

1. Girls Who Invest is trying to improve the pipeline of young women who are qualified and knowledgeable to enter the industry, and then connect them with jobs at the best financial firms.

2. All of them, as they progress through their undergraduate careers and then on to graduate and professional careers, need a mentor or a coach, and a network of women and men to help promote them in their career.

3. We think it’s important to get to young women early. We’re reaching them as rising juniors with two years of undergraduate left, which gives them time to take additional courses or change majors … we’re putting some thought into programs for high-school aged students as well.

Rianka Dorsainvil, Founder and president, Your Greatest Contribution, Lanham, Md.

1. Expose more young women to the financial planning career while they are still students in high school and college. As financial advisors, we should talk to guidance counselors and assistant principals so that they can direct women students into this field.

2. Debunk the myth that this profession is all about numbers and men in dark blue suits behind mahogany desks. It is about building relationships and helping people. There are so many women who are better at building relationships than men.

3. Women need to share their stories. We can show them that there are all kinds of women who are successful in financial planning. You can’t be what you can’t see.

Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, Executive director, CFP Board Center for Financial Planning, Washington, DC

1. Culture matters. Research conducted by CFP Board shows that gender bias still exists within some firms.  We need to shine a light on firms with strong programs in place to support and develop women advisors as models for others to follow.

2. Lead from the top. CEO-level commitments to recruiting and advancing women need to be fully implemented by middle-level managers. Given the profession’s widening talent gap, everyone must be invested in a diverse workforce to serve the client of the future.

3. Dispel misperceptions. Women need to know that financial planning is fundamentally about helping people meet their life goals. It is a profession that combines technical expertise with strong communication and relationship skills, integrity and empathy.

Kaytlin Hall, Co-director of the Women of Wealth Group, Gerber Kawasaki Wealth &
Investment Management, 
Santa Monica, Calif.

1. Hiring more women in the financial service industry will naturally attract women to the field. Being able to work with other women is an empowering experience because it is an opportunity to work with women who understand your path.

2. Getting the message out there about the financial services industry will bring more women into the advisory business. If schools can share what careers are available, more women will be drawn to the industry because they will know there is a place for them.

3. Financial literacy among young girls is imperative for getting more women on finance-related career paths. Learning about money as a child sets the groundwork for a young woman who would later have a great relationship with money and find personal finance to be “fun” later on.

Zaneilia Harris, President, Harris & Harris Wealth, Upper Marlboro, Md.

1. I believe that in order to attract more women to aspire for job opportunities within financial services, everyone in the profession, whether male or female, has to want success for women. It has to go beyond just talking but with continual corporate action that embraces the various life phases and diversity of women. Starting there is the foundation of change. That is when honest engagement can begin.

2. My outreach has been speaking at conferences of organizations that cater to girls at all grade levels. Additionally, on a smaller scale it can start with talking at your local elementary, middle and high schools during career day.

3. Within our communities, galvanizing current women financial planners to become ambassadors. Openly communicating our journeys further brings awareness and transparency of what it takes to succeed in the profession. This is an ongoing campaign of the CFP Board.

Georgia Lee Hussey, President, Modernist Financial, Portland, Ore.

1. Promote from within, specifically pulling from departments that are traditionally staffed by women (like operations).

2. Offer competitive maternity AND paternity leave and ensure that company culture encourages employees to take the leave.

3. Bring in experts: Hire consultants to ensure your internal culture is inclusive. After that work is done, hire recruiters that specialize in diversity and inclusion.

Lauren Locker, Founder, Locker Financial Services LLC, Little Falls, N.J. and Framingham, Mass.

1. Create a clear career advancement path that recognizes achievement with better pay and a place at the decision-making table. Work/life balance and flexibility are critically important and can’t be an “either/or” proposition.

2. Women want work with a sense of purpose. Reframe the profession to emphasize the life-changing potential inherent in financial planning work. Demonstrate how women can play an integral role in teaching and guiding clients toward a personal definition of success.

3. Rather than directing women toward sex-segregated networking opportunities, provide women with access to successful role models of both genders. Be sure that these mentors give lots of in-person feedback and that they challenge women to find creative ways to work around traditional gender roles that exist in the profession.

Kathleen McQuiggan, Special advisor on gender diversity, CFP Board Center for Financial Planning , Washington, D.C. 

1. Awareness. Role models need to be visible and share their stories on how they entered the profession and discovered what a great career financial planning can be. They should also educate women interested in the field on the different career paths that are available to them.

2. Men as allies. We need to take a more inclusive approach, with both men and women invested in recruiting, advancing and retaining women in the financial services industry.

3. Accountability. Firms need to be open to exploring where they might have blind spots with regard to factors that might be creating an unlevel playing field within their own organizations. They should acknowledge any issues and work towards improving gender parity internally.

Leighann Miko, Financial advisor, Equalis FinancialLos Angeles, Calif.

1. The industry needs to make a stronger effort to promote financial literacy, especially in minority communities. By exposing young girls to the most basic financial concepts, you empower them and chip away at existing barriers. Also, there needs to be more information within educational programs on the different types of companies and paths within the industry. There’s a misconception that as financial advisors you work only with wealthy people, and that’s not true.

2. While mentorship programs do exist in the industry, these platforms may not go far enough. These programs should make a targeted effort to recruit mentors from different backgrounds.

3. Existing firms should prioritize diversity within their hiring practices. We are creatures of habit and tend to stick with familiarity, which will only lead to the same groupthink.

Chloé A. Moore, Founder and financial planner, Financial Staples, Atlanta, Ga.

1. Awareness of the profession needs to happen. Get out in the community and make women aware of how beneficial this profession can be for their future. Visit your college and talk to alumni about how to enter the profession and create a career path. Visit high schools and discuss the advantages of a financial career.

2. Visibility in the media could be better. Women advisors don’t see themselves in the media, such as advertising campaigns. Advertisers need to showcase more diversity so women can visualize the potential for them in the career.

3. Work with other women’s groups sharing the profession’s possibilities. Network with women business owners to build relationships and a diverse range of clients.

Tricia Mulcare, Principal, Homrich Berg Wealth Management, Atlanta, Ga.

1. It starts in school. Students should know that advisors work directly with clients, oftentimes during periods of high stress and transition. Female advisors are well suited to bring calm as clients navigate life-changing decisions.

2. Young women should know that oftentimes advisors will experience deep relationships with clients who come to truly see you not only as their advocate and trusted advisor, but also as a trusted friend.

3. Firms need to be flexible with women as they start families. The really tough years are the day-care sick days, and firms should find ways to “make it work.” Homrich Berg has used a combination of reduced hours/client responsibilities and started an intentional women’s group to share best practices in an effort to retain our female professionals.

Cady North, CEO, North Financial Advisors, San Diego, Calif.

1. We need to create a profession and a career path that focuses on advice, not sales. Many women are turned off by a sales-focused career.

2. Even once you’ve put in the hard work to complete CFP course work or take the exam, it can be disheartening to see the job availability. This becomes a hurdle to getting the CFP experience requirement met. I mentor young professionals all the time who struggle with finding roles because the non-sales career path isn’t common.

3. The financial planner role is attractive because it’s a job that comes with flexibility, makes a difference in people’s lives, and can be quite rewarding professionally. However … it’s very difficult to find true financial planner roles with a defined career path.

René Nourse, Founder and CEO, Urban Wealth Management, El Segundo, Calif.

1. “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Engage women to recruit other women. It could be an advisor, a manager or industry executive. Be creative and add incentives for women professionals to reach out to others.

2. Recognize that more women want women advisors. Support your women advisors in their efforts to recruit women clients using educational programs, events and outreach via social media.

3. Mentors are good, but advocates are best. Advocates will not only be mentors, but will pursue and introduce opportunities for these women. We need people to “kick down the door,” if need be, to make the case for providing additional opportunities. Do a better assessment as to what your women advisors’ skill sets actually are. Don’t assume that they will be salespeople.

Catherine M. Seeber, Vice president, CAPTRUST, Doylestown, Pa.

1. Universities, corporations, and practitioners should promote financial planning as a career, not a book of business. If the focus is purely on proving oneself monetarily, there’s less opportunity to learn and grow. For most women, collaboration and teamwork is more appealing than head-to-head competition.

2. Level the playing field. The more transparent the compensation structure, the less concern there will be surrounding possible gender-based pay disparity.

3. Women need to view themselves as leaders, rather than silent accommodators. Given the opportunity to participate in women’s leadership and networking groups and seminars, new and seasoned advisors alike will develop confidence in their own abilities. These initiatives could attract more women to our profession and lead to more fulfilling careers.

Marlo Stil, Managing partner, The Wealth Consulting Group, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

1. Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion is key. It starts from the top down with a basic respect of, and appreciation for, the unique skills women bring to the table in this industry and the belief that we can be very successful. (All of our top producer awards last year went to women advisors.)

2. Success attracts success. Firms that have successful female advisors and women in leadership positions naturally attract other successful women wanting to collaborate with their peers, share best practices and mentorship. “We need to see it to be it.” (Fifty percent of our 2017 top producers were women.)

3. Strategic firm-wide initiatives are critical. With the majority of the wealth transitioning to women, today’s firms must provide their women advisors branding, marketing and training programs designed to capture that wealth. A key element is the availability of high-quality ESG/SRI investment support, as research shows female clients and advisors prefer a values-based investment approach.

Winnie Sun, Co-founder, managing director, Sun Group Wealth Partners, Irvine, Calif.

1. Companies must have managers who embrace diversity. Treat ALL employees the same—have one success criteria regardless of gender/ethnicity. Have transparent, open communication.

2. Today’s employee values work/life balance. Gone are the days where you could only find stability working at a large firm. Employers need to compete for talented employees and that means being mindful of today’s employee needs, focusing on fostering positivity in and outside the office. Have a formal maternity/elder care program for financial advisors. Have a program that ensures they can take paid time to care for their families.

3. Have a long-term mentoring program for new advisors that embraces work-life balance, technology/mobile office, and marketing coaching to help attract new clients.