When you have the opportunity to do something that is both fundamentally right and potentially profitable, you know the stars have aligned. Such is the case with recruiting women to the male-dominated field of financial services and — very importantly — helping those women succeed.
As an industry, we need to help women recognize opportunities to let their talents flourish. At the same time, recruiting and retaining women is smart from a business perspective. Women make up an increasingly influential segment of our marketplace: They control and/or influence vast amounts of personal and business wealth.
This growing class of entrepreneurial and influential women represents an ideal market for financial services companies and professionals. Yet, for all their growing power, both as business owners and as individual consumers, an astounding 84% of women say they feel misunderstood by the financial services industry. Bringing more women into our ranks and helping them build their own books of business is one of the best ways we can begin to close this gap.
We know from experience that successful women like to work with other successful women. We also know that adopting some specific best practices now can make a huge impact in the near future. Five years ago, we began taking aggressive steps to recruit, retain and advance women agents.
In that time, we have doubled our number of women agents, who now account for approximately a third of our firm. More importantly, we have helped these talented and aspiring women succeed. Several women have been among our best producers in the past five years; one has been our very top producer for the past two years. Nearly half our women agents now qualify for the company’s internal recognition program for top performers. Five years ago, none did.
Here are some of the best practices that have made a difference for us.
Listen to successful professional women. Three years ago, we launched an advisory board made up of some of the leading women professionals in the tri-state area that we serve. They have been an invaluable source of referrals to new hires, new business and new approaches to women in the marketplace. These professional women have been eager to help well-intentioned firms, such as ours, provide opportunity to women, both in the form of careers and financial services expertise.
Look for the right type of person, not just the right type of resume. Some of our most successful women agents come from non-traditional backgrounds or from previous careers that did not provide them with opportunities to maximize their talent. One of our best-performing agents is a woman who had been relegated to administrative work at her former firm and denied opportunities for advancement. Another agent was a restaurant manager who has been able to apply her smarts, energy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills to her new and highly successful career in the financial services field.
Adopt women-friendly workplace policies. Women often are caregivers to their own families, their parents and others. Adopting policies such as flex time, flexible training and development schedules and flexible career paths will give them the room they need to balance their home and work lives. It’s not enough to recruit women; you have to help them stay and thrive in the business.
Enable team-based approaches. We’ve learned that joint work is an extremely attractive option for many women, who tell us that they enjoy working in teams, appreciate the support they receive and give to other team members, and value the flexibility that teams provide in their personal lives.
For example, it’s important in this career choice to know that a team member can cover an appointment in the event of a family emergency and that the team member will be just as intimately familiar with the client’s needs. Additionally, teams help the client by making available to them people of different expertise, different disciplines and different opinions.
Establish mentoring programs. A new recruit always benefits from a mentoring relationship with a successful, experienced agent who can coach her (or him) to success. We have found that the best firms have formal mentoring programs in place. These programs especially appeal to women, who have indicated to us that they value and welcome coaching from an experienced person.
Help women focus on markets they know about, care about and can serve well. For example, many women advisors focus on serving other women, recognizing that women as a group are an extremely powerful block of buyers and financial decision-makers, making them an excellent group for prospecting. Some women agents focus on special needs planning, an area that can be very emotionally-rewardingbecause of the ability to help families in great need.
And some women agents — who are entrepreneurs themselves — focus on serving other women entrepreneurs, who research shows are opening businesses at a greater rate than men. By supporting their entry into markets that they feel passionately about, firms increase the likelihood of their new recruits’ success and satisfaction.
Equip new agents with the tools they need to succeed. The best companies will equip their agents with the programs, materials and support necessary to succeed. Seminars in particular are an effective tool for two reasons. First, agents in general, and women agents in particular, tend to want to help and teach people; seminars are an effective and efficient way to do so. Second, women clients tend to enjoy learning in groups of other women and, in our experience, are often more open to discussing their needs in a group setting of other women than they are in a mixed-gender setting.
Associate yourself with a company that places the same value on recruiting and retaining women — and serving women clients — as you do. In our case, MassMutual has provided guidance, support and tools that have enhanced our own efforts. And, in turn, we have shared our lessons and insights so that other agencies can benefit from our experience and enjoy similar success.
It might be stereotyping to say that women have special talents for caring about others, liking to help, wanting to teach, and developing long-lasting relationships. That description, however, is true in our experience. And those qualities — regardless of gender — are the attributes of a great agent.
Harris S. Fishman, CLU, ChFC, is president and general agent of First Financial Group, a general agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass. You may e-mail him at .