Early in my job search, I was fortunate to find a career that gave me passion and purpose, a job that lets me build the life I wanted.
How many careers give you the satisfaction of helping people and the chance to do well by doing good? Starting out in sales provided these benefits and more. Truthfully, though, I found the career by chance, not by actively seeking it. And like me, too few women see a career path in sales as an option. A job as a financial professional provides control. Advisors set their goals and schedule based on personal desires. Having that autonomy to achieve what I was motivated to do with the support of a larger firm piqued my interest. When I began my career many people did not know what it meant to be a financial professional and, unfortunately, 20 years later the industry is still plagued with obscurity.
Fewer than one-third of all financial professionals are women, according to a recent Forbes article. Knowing that, it’s also no surprise that few women report having an advisor. Our industry needs to appeal to more women as consumers but also, maybe even more importantly, as a vibrant career option. We need to do a better job introducing the career and helping new agents and advisors succeed.
First, we need to figure out what keeps women from exploring sales opportunities. The recent Guardian study, “Closing the Gender Gap in Sales,” brought to light the fact that the industry has been considering this issue with tunnel vision: It’s not that women are not interested in a career in financial services, it’s that women are not sold on a career in sales, regardless of the industry.
The study identified certain areas the industry needs to address in order for women to consider a career pivot into sales.
Confidence Women often fear they don’t have the ego-driven personality they need to succeed in sales. In fact, 77 percent of women surveyed think they’re not pushy enough for the job. We need to help women realize that they have great skills to offer this career. Top advisors of both genders are driven by a desire to help others and solve problems. The idea of a pushy salesperson being the protocol is outdated and doesn’t reflect who our advisors are or what consumers want. We need financial professionals that listen to clients’ fears and offer financial guidance, propose solutions and alternatives based on each individual situation. In short, what is needed are financial professionals with a natural ability to listen to peoples’ needs and solve problems. According to 2014 research on women leaders by Caliper, “These dynamics favor a results-and actionoriented approach, a straightforward and persuasive communication style, and strength in recognizing patterns in data and solving problems.” Ideal qualities for financial professionals and also innate abilities for many men and women. As we reach out to new female recruits, we should reinforce that this is no longer an industry centered on cold calls, but one that has evolved to nurturing relationships and problem-solving. They can come as they are and be successful.
While 72 percent of women surveyed said they can lead their team to success at work, they still rank being a leader 11th among their top traits. Women make excellent leaders and are a valuable asset to any team. Women tend to value communication and teamwork in the workplace. Then there are others who may feel that they don’t know enough about all the products available to make a fully informed recommendation to a client, hence they don’t feel that they can lead in that capacity. Unbeknownst to most is that many financial advisors work in a team environment, and the benefit of joining a firm with a strong, inclusive culture is access to coaches and peers who are available to discuss the best solutions for each client. More should be done to make people aware that a financial services career is about building relationships and helping individuals achieve financial security, not about telemarketing. Advisors are problem solvers who hear clients’ concerns and provide skilled guidance based on the appropriate financial tools and strategies; they’re not lone wolves out hunting. It’s critical that we not only share this message with potential recruits but also with the general public; our recruits have friends and family members who they’re turning to for career advice. We need to eradicate this perception of a salesperson who calls on people to sell one product. We do so much more than that and our advisors are the key to helping reduce the financial stress of our clients.
Remove Risk One in two women is most comfortable sticking to her routine. Women are playing it safe, which influences why they think sales isn’t for them — sales seems risky. Fifty-seven percent of women don’t even know what it would take to be successful in sales, so they’re limiting their reach since they don’t have a clear sales career map. Many women fear making big changes in their career paths. They may feel they have a good understanding of what their current trajectory is and can depend on that playing out. A new career, without a roadmap, can deter many from financial services. This is an area where the industry can make immediate improvements. Companies should provide a guide of what new recruits can expect and how that can influence future opportunities. For instance, a new recruit may be interested in how much in sales they need to clear in order to keep employee benefits, or how much they need to sell to make an average income of $50,000. What are other opportunities in their career trajectory? Are there certain professional designations they are interested in? What is needed to become a practice leader or create a producer group? How can they become a general agent? The more information a prospective recruit receives outlining how far this career path can take them, the easier it becomes to envision a new beginning.
Provide Support One in three women says she doesn’t have a leader to guide her along the way. Having a network of support to help navigate what to expect during a career change provides many with a guide toward success. This includes having a mentor, meeting peers who you can connect with and relate to and feeling supported by your local firm and national company. Guardian invites all female advisors to the annual Women’s Producer Summit with the goal of building the network of support advisors have while learning, developing and making professional connections. State Farm, New York Life and Mass Mutual are just a few other players that also promote the recruitment and professional support of women in sales within their organization. As new recruits consider joining your firm it is imperative that they see and feel the support they’ll have to succeed.
Let Go of Perfection Eighty percent of women set the bar very high for themselves professionally, with 70 percent of respondents indicating that they believe they’d always be stressed and under pressure in a sales job. There are a couple of reasons for this — women often think they need to be perfect and they worry they don’t know enough to earn a living selling in a commission-based position. Anxiety of what things “may be” can get the best of anyone and women tend to focus on being competent at the expense of being confident in our abilities. I know it takes effort to overcome this and as recruiters, trainers and leaders we need to help women understand that there is a learning curve but success is absolutely attainable.
Emily Viner is vice president of agency growth & development at the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.