Karen DeRose (left) and Nicole Spinelli of Lincoln Financial run the company’s WISE program.

While the financial services industry has historically been known as a male-dominated field, that’s slowly starting to change.

ThinkAdvisor sat down with two women at the helm of a new women’s initiative at Lincoln Financial Network to hear how they are working hard to tackle the boy’s club image attached to the financial services industry.

While the financial services industry has historically been a male-dominated field, Nicole Spinelli and Karen DeRose want to inspire women to pursue opportunities within financial services to increase the overall number of female advisors, as well as support women already in the industry, through Lincoln Financial’s women’s initiative, WISE, or Women Inspiring, Supporting, and Educating.

“We need to get more women into practices,” DeRose, founding member and chairman of WISE, told ThinkAdvisor. “We need to get them for succession planning. We have a big issue in our industry as a whole. As we all know, the average age [of an advisor today] is 52 and we need to start thinking about that. So, that’s another way to engage the female advisor into a practice and to get the men involved as well.”

WISE began as a grassroots initiative among Lincoln Financial’s top female advisors two years ago and held its first meeting in early 2015.

Spinelli, who was appointed as director of the WISE group in February, has a long history of supporting women in the industry. Prior to joining Lincoln Financial, she spent 14 years at Raymond James’ Network of Women Advisors.

Right now, approximately 14% of Lincoln Financial Network’s advisors are female.

“I want to see those numbers shift. Ideal for me is parity,” Spinelli said. Adding, “We’re 51% of the population – women – and the financial industry needs to reflect that.”

Recent data on female millennials in the financial services industry shows how unhappy young women are in the industry.

A recent study by PwC finds that only a third (35%) of the 596 female millennials in financial services surveyed said they feel that they could rise to senior levels within their current organization – half the proportion of men working within financial services, according to PwC.

In fact, the number one reason why female millennials in the financial services industry left their last job was because they saw no opportunities for career progression.

The study also found that 61% of female millennials in financial services say their employer isn’t doing enough to encourage diversity, and 73% say firms talk about diversity, but opportunities are not equal for all. Half believe promotion is biased toward men.

“That’s part of our focus and the initiative to raise the visibility of women advisors at Lincoln,” Spinelli said. “We need to show women that are looking for their career path, here’s what success looks like.”

Spinelli and DeRose offered advice for these female millennials starting out in the business on how to last and prosper in the financial services industry:

Find a Mentor

“The first thing that I would do is find myself or align myself with a good mentor,” DeRose said.

DeRose, who started out in the selling insurance with her father, found a mentor when after three years she decided to switch from insurance to planning. And now she herself is mentor.

“I am mentoring another woman, who is going to be stepping up from my practice in about a year,” she said. “I feel that it’s important that anyone comes into this business it would be great if they really are mentored or have someone. Because I would not be here if it wasn’t for all of the great mentors I had in my life.”

Find a Company You Respect

“Knowing the culture and environment is so important to a millennial,” Spinelli told ThinkAdvisor. “Finding a company that you respect the way that it’s run, and that they have recognized in the culture of their firm the importance of having diversity and inclusion within that group.”

Create Work-Life Balance

“Work-life balance is really important [to women],” DeRose told ThinkAdvisor. “The beauty of our business is that you have the ability to have that. I say that, because you can work your own schedule. We actually have a planner [in WISE], she’s amazing, she’s about 37 and she is regimented and she works 30 hours a work and she does amazing. We were blown away at how she works her schedule and her clients know it and so it can be done.”

It’s OK to Work Your Way Up

“I think the biggest [hurdle] initially is the compensation structure, right?” DeRose told ThinkAdvisor. “For most of the firms, you’re going to come in and there’s not going to be a salary. I think that’s one of the things we have to get over is how do we figure that out. So, one way that we are now seeing it is some of the women are coming in possibly as a financial planning case manager and/or they’re coming in as a planning assistant, which is a great stepping stone to becoming a planner then.”

Don’t Make the Coffee

“I learned early in my career that I don’t know how to use a conference phone, I do not know how to make coffee or where the coffee room is located. I don’t take notes,” Spinelli told ThinkAdvisor. “Just because so much of the time on the corporate side I would be the only woman in the room. No one’s sitting there thinking, ‘Oh let’s make her feel bad today.’ They just think ‘Oh she probably has that skillset, why don’t you take notes Nicole.’”

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: