What do women business owners want? Raymond James, for one, has been trying to figure that out for 13 years. Karen Schultz, the newest Raymond James executive to take on the position of director for the firm's Network for Women Advisors, says, "In 1994, a group of women reps went to the [company's] then-president and requested the opportunity to formally gather together to share ideas, talk about the challenges [of women in business], and share success stories."
Don't women want the same kind of successes men want? And why is a separate group necessary to discuss these issues? "Women speak more freely in their own group than in a mixed group," says Schultz. "Not only that, but they build practices differently, too. Their practices tend to be more relationship-based...not that men aren't good at building relationships. It's just that women, as communicators, are sometimes better listeners. For this reason, they're a natural fit for this industry."
The success of Raymond James' initiative testifies to the fact that women have this need to congregate, and it's a persistent need. "The group has grown over the years," adds Schultz. "We've seen a dedicated response at the corporate level resulting in several opportunities each year for women to gather in person and through conference calls to receive mentoring, coaching and to simply network with each other."
In fact, Raymond James now holds an annual Women's Symposium, the most recent in September 2007 (www.rjwomensymposium.com). What would you expect at a conference designed solely for women attendees? If your answer is sessions by women for women, then you would be missing the point. Women reps, says Schultz, need the same educational sessions as do men and, while women speakers abound at this event, male speakers are still well represented. What's different, when you look under the hood, is the aforementioned need of women to congregate together--to learn and network in an all-women-attendee environment. Well, that, and the yoga sessions that begin each day of the conference.
And this need women have to convene apart from the likes of me and my biological brethren isn't confined solely to Raymond James; it's popping up simultaneously elsewhere in the industry as well.
Peggy Cabaniss, past NAPFA president and chairwoman, has for several years now led a series of NAPFA forums on issues of concern to women members. Owner of HC Financial Advisors, Inc. in Lafayette, Calif., Cabaniss explains, "What spurred this is I found out that NAPFA's and the CFP Board's memberships were composed of approximately 25 percent to 28 percent women. At first I was surprised because people often say about 40 percent of conference attendees are women, but the fact is, it just seems that way. So why don't we have more women in this profession that calls for skills many women naturally possess?"
The first year of Cabaniss' forums, the participants simply gathered information to discern whether women's issues were something enough members wanted to talk about. But beginning with the second year, the stage was set, and NAPFA and Cabaniss began presenting panels to showcase successful women role models at different life stages.
Securities America is another industry firm that took a stab at fulfilling the needs of women in the business when Janine Wertheim, current president of Securities America Advisors and Chief Marketing Officer of Securities America, organized a focus group in 2004. "We set out thinking we would build some programs specifically around women, like a women's advisory council or a mentoring program for women--or maybe special awards for women top producers. However, we ended up learning that women want to compete on the same playing field as men and don't want special treatment," Wertheim says.
Wertheim's focus group consisted of 12 women from different firms--only one a Securities America rep--selected with the help of an outside firm. What was accomplished? "As a result of all of this, we determined that it probably didn't make sense to have a women-specific focus [within Securities America], but that we should be investing in technology, compliance systems... the things both women and men want. We learned that diversity is very important in making good decisions about the services and benefits we provide as a broker/dealer. We always want advisory councils to be made up of a diverse group of both men and women."
Wertheim implies that this conclusion was arrived at in a more scientific manner than the methods usedby Schultz and Cabaniss. "We came up with 30 different benefits and had our focus group members rank them as either 'keepers,' 'so-so,' or 'let's discard.'" She stresses that the benefits were specific in nature. "We didn't just ask questions like, 'Tell me what you expect from your broker-dealer.' We asked, 'Would you prefer to have tools to manage assets yourself or to use third-party money managers?'"
What hit the "discard" pile? Women's study groups and awards specifically for women reps. What were "keepers?" First was the women's need to have access to the broker/dealer's top decision makers; second was the need for improved technology. "Women reps want us to help them make their offices more productive technologically, just as men do," she explains.
Drilling down, the questions became even more specific. Wertheim found women wanted the ability to do customized reporting for clients. "They wanted an integrated, on-demand performance reporting system with online access by clients to consolidated account reporting. And they wanted a fully integrated contact management system."
Other benefits rejected by women included a special network for women, a women's advisory board, awards and acknowledgments for women advisors, and local networking lunches with other female professionals. "When we look at initiatives going on with other independent broker/dealers," says Wertheim, "we do see things like women's advisory boards, but our research led us to believe that's not what women really want."
Are there differences between the business development needs of women and those of men? Slight ones, perhaps. "When we ran the same list of benefits by 20 advisors of both sexes," says Wertheim, "technology was the top component, while access to decision makers wasn't ranked as high as it was by women alone. Because our industry is male-dominated, men probably felt they already had the access to management that women were still seeking."
In addition to her focus group, Wertheim surveyed more than 1,000 women advisors at various broker/dealers on the benefits questions posed to her focus group. The mix included women at both wirehouses and IBDs--43 percent of whom had university degrees, 30 percent of whom had post-graduate degrees, 45 percent between the ages of 45 and 54, and 54 percent producing GDCs and/or advisory fees of more than $200,000 a year.
"The responses to this survey told us that women, first of all, want technology and other advisor tools; secondly, products and product choice; and thirdly, compliance support and assistance. Their three biggest challenges," she adds, "are growing revenues and acquiring more clients, keeping pace with compliance regulations, and converting from commissions to fees." All in all, Wertheim suggests, probably very similar to what she would have found in an all-male survey.
But what women want as business owners goes well beyond the benefits their broker/dealers or professional affiliations can provide.
Cheryl Holland, who runs Abacus Planning Group, Inc. in Columbia, S.C., says what's different about women is, "We know we want to honor a work-life balance, and we're comfortable with the juggling [of life's challenges]. My schedule has changed over the years depending on my family's needs." Holland says that when her daughter was little, she got up early to nurse her, went to work, and came home mid-afternoon. "Now I stay home till she leaves for school in the morning, I come home at 4 p.m. to take her to after-school activities, and then I go back to work.
"I know I'm doing the right thing and don't have to justify my coming and going [from the office]," she continues. "My family comes first, so it might take me longer to achieve something in business. My husband says I do more than 90 percent of the men he knows, but I say [laughing], 'what kind of standard is that?'"
Through Raymond James' Women's Symposiums, Schultz has learned similar lessons. "Women have different challenges than men, mainly in the form of demands on their time. Many of our women reps have in common the need to take care of children and parents. They want to see each other succeed and be successful in their own right, so strong relationships are made, and success is celebrated."
Cabaniss points out that, "The issues faced by younger women of balancing family life with career don't disappear in mid-life because these women are still raising teenagers. It's just as difficult a period of time." One advisor she knows who owns her own firm, is successful, and "should" be working full-out to develop her business, Cabaniss says, but has to meet the demands of three teenagers. And once the teenagers mature (which admittedly, can seem like a lifetime), many women are left to deal with aging parents. "So the balancing problem never goes away," says Cabaniss. "The woman in the family is usually still the caregiver, whether dealing with kids or parents."
What's the big deal if women have to be a little better at juggling, you ask? Maybe that's a question only a woman can answer. Cabaniss explains it as a matter of professionalism. "Women don't want to get their CFP, work part-time so they can take care of family, and then be perceived and treated like a paraplanner. Working five days a week and 10 hours a day should not be the definition of a professional."
Of course, perception can be influenced in other ways, too. "If the number of women is to increase in the profession, and if we are to be perceived as professional, we need to understand we must step up to the responsibility of leadership within the professional organizations we belong to," says Cabaniss. "And, aside from a few prominent women like Natalie Choate, Rebecca Pomering and Deena Katz," she adds, "most conference speakers are men. Maybe it's because women say they must feel 110 percent sure of knowing the right answers before they speak."
Lately, NAPFA has opened up its workshops to men, too. And while that might seem to neutralize the benefits of a gathering for women only, it has had a positive effect on men's perceptions of women members. According to Cabaniss, men attending these events say they really appreciate and better understand the concerns women have.
And that's good for everyone.
An independent financial advisor since 1981, David J. Drucker, MBA, CFP, has been influential in the financial services industry for many years. Information about his upcoming Technology Tools for Today Conference can be accessed at www.VirtualOfficeNews.com.