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Women Less Likely Than Men to Use Mentoring Programs: Edward Jones

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When mentorship or other sponsorship programs are offered through the workplace, women are less inclined to take advantage of them than men, according to a recent Edward Jones study.

The study, “Beyond Leaning In: Americans Not Taking Advantage of Career Advancement Programs in Place,” was conducted by ORC International and surveyed more than 1,000 Americans. Even though 82% of people said that they would take advantage of career advancement opportunities, only 21% of men and 18% of women actually utilized the programs when they were available.  

“The lack of formal mentorship or sponsorship programs in the workplace is a serious issue, particularly in financial services, which has traditionally lacked female representation,” said Elizabeth Schehl, director of financial advisor diversity and female performance at Edward Jones, in a statement.

Schehl also says that a part of challenge is lack of awareness or lack of access. “We found that when we initially rolled out our support programs, there was lower participation because the women didn’t realize the programs existed,” she told ThinkAdvisor in an email. “We created them but had not done a great job of communicating their purpose or value.”

Women represent 18% of the firm’s 13,000 financial advisors, and 6% are “diverse,” or minority, advisors, according to Edward Jones. By comparison, the broker-dealer industry average is 16% women and 8% “diverse” individuals, according to a 2011 report on workplace diversity by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association cited in the statement.

The study also found that there are still gender hurdles for women in the workplace. Ninety percent of Americans surveyed by ORC believed that gender played a big part in career advancement. They believed that mentorship programs were necessary to correct the gap for women to advance in the workplace.

“There have been instances where some women have admitted to feeling intimidated in male-dominated programs and environments, thus they participate less and do not share their perspectives and opinions,” Schehl said.

Another reason might be anxiety – high-risk situations tend to increase anxious feelings in women. According to a 2014 study presented by the American Sociological Association, women may be more anxious in certain workplace situations because the circumstances are risker for women than they are for men.

“People frequently encounter high-risk, high-reward situations in workplaces, and if women avoid these situations or perform more poorly in them because they are more anxious, they will reap fewer rewards than otherwise similar men,” said Susan Fisk, one of the study’s authors and a doctoral candidate in sociology at Stanford University.

Schehl says that this issue goes beyond women “leaning in” – a term popularized by Chef Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook – and taking advantage of the workplace programs. Schehl says that this issue goes beyond women “leaning in” and taking advantage of the workplace programs. “At Edward Jones, we have seen and heard many examples where women advisors and associates see asking for help as a sign of weakness, for fear that others will perceive they cannot be successful if they raise their hands for additional support,” she said.

The company offers woman-focused programs, as well as non-gender-specific support and training. Advisors have access to a trainer who can provide one-on-one support to help build their own personal practice, Schehl said.

She also adds that when successful women are acknowledged in the organization and they are able to share their stories, participation rates in these mentorship programs will increase.

“At Edward Jones, we are working to address some of the issues that prevent women from seeking a mentor or sponsor in the workplace through our Women’s Initiative for New Growth Strategies (WINGS) program,” said Schehl. “The program is built on the success of employees who take pride in onboarding and coaching new women financial advisors. However, there is an important give-and-take here that countless studies have proven.”