Why a List of the 50 Top Women in Wealth?

Recognizing accomplished women in and around wealth management is both appropriate and important

The irony is not lost on me that I, a man, am presenting the list of the 2011 AdvisorOne 50 Top Women in Wealth. I’m in that position partly by chance--former Wealth Manager editor and AdvisorOne Wealth channel editor Kate McBride did the lion’s share of the work in coordinating the activities of the nominating and deciding committee that chose this year’s honorees.

In between conducting that process and the publication of the 50 Top Women list, Kate (regrettably) left journalism to take a position at, of all things, a wealth management firm. While I was involved in the process as Kate’s manager, I was not deeply involved in the decision-making process, though I certainly weighed in with my own suggestions. (See a separate article on the process.)

One man served honorably on the committee, and as I mentioned in the lead story on the 50 Top Women, many of those women honored this year have said that men played important mentoring roles in their careers--witness Liz Ann Sonders of Schwab who told us in an interview for last year ‘s 50 Top Women that famed investor Marty Zweig and Wall Street Week’s Louis Rukeyser played crucial roles in her career.

So men have their value when it comes to fostering women’s career success in the wealth management business.

However, men have also made it more difficult for women to succeed in the business, both in outright hostility and more subtle forms of discrimination. Let’s be honest. Many men are uncomfortable with women being in positions of power. Especially in some areas of financial services where the testosterone is thick, women have been and no doubt are still being treated as second-class citizens who some men firmly believe don’t have the wherewithal to succeed in high-stress, high-producing positions. That’s just wrong. It’s also foolish. Why wouldn’t you want the best person for any job, regardless of gender (or race, creed, age, sexual orientation, etc.)?

Yes, there are signs that women are making significant strides in various areas of the business--and to me the spectrum of expertise represented by this year’s 50 Top Women is the clearest advertisement for the notion that women can succeed in nearly all areas of wealth. However, it’s still true that women make less money than men even when they have the same level of education and expertise and hold the same job. The most commonly cited statistic is that just 15% of financial advisors are women.

Women are also much more likely to move in and out of the workforce both to raise families and to be

 

caregivers to aged parents as well as young children. One member of the 50 Top Women told me an off-the-record story that she had had very promising prospects in her first career until she had to choose between accepting a promotion that would have required a change of location or taking care of her aging mother. She turned down the promotion and took care of her mother.

Nothing out of the ordinary there; many women in and out of wealth management have faced and will face a similar difficult choice. Far fewer men feel compelled to choose between family and career; the expectations on men are different in this area. Men are often lauded for ‘helping’ their wives with child-rearing or household chores. The notion that men are ‘helping’ of course presumes that it’s really someone else’s primary job, and men actually don’t have real responsibility for what many men consider low-reward, unmanly jobs.

Sure, I respect the fact that every couple, every family, figures out their own solution, their own approach, to such issues. Sure, sometimes women are their own worst enemies when it comes to women succeeding. In my experience, women are much harder on women bosses than on male bosses, judging them on a much broader range of issues--including appearance--that male bosses don’t have to face.

Yes, it would be great to live in a world where it didn’t matter what a person’s gender was, or race. It would be great to live in a world where we wouldn’t need a separate list of 50 top women. That world doesn’t exist yet.  Maybe men could “help” with that.

For all their work on this year’s list, special thanks are due to Kate McBride, former editor of Wealth Manager and the Wealth channel editor on AdvisorOne.com; and my colleagues Janet Levaux, managing editor of Research magazine and the portfolio editor on AdvisorOne; and Melanie Waddell, Washington bureau chief for Investment Advisor and Practice editor on AdvsorOne for their essential stewardship of the 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the full list of 2011 honorees here. For an explanation of the process and a list of the industry luminaries who made the final decisions, please click here.

See the lead news article on the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

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