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Largest Women’s Symposium Ever, Yet Percentage of Women Hasn’t Budged

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Twenty-three years ago, when the Network for Women Advisors first started, there were only 35 attendees at the first Raymond James Women’s Symposium.

This year’s is “the largest Women’s Symposium ever,” Michelle Lynch, vice president of the Network for Women Advisors, said during her opening session.

There are approximately 630 attendees total, which includes 400 advisors or top branch staffers, at this year’s symposium in Tampa, Florida.

“I think this is a great testament to not only the value of this conference but also the growing number of women in the profession and those that are finding a home here at Raymond James,” she told the crowd.

Yet, the percentage of women at Raymond James and in the industry overall is still hovering around 15%.

“As a firm, we are right around 15% women; as an industry, we are right around 15% women,” Lynch said. “And I have to tell you that it’s proven much harder than I thought it was going to be to move that needle ever so slightly.”

In a media briefing, Raymond James CEO Paul Reilly expressed his disappointment that the percentage of women at Raymond James hasn’t increased. But he also explained why that needle hasn’t moved.

According to Reilly, Raymond James’ recent acquisitions “have been less diverse.

“If you look at Alex. Brown and Morgan Keegan, that percentage actually brought us down,” he said. “The successes actually kept us at the same. So we were making progress, but the acquisitions weren’t acquisitive.”

Reilly said that in the last 12 months, 69% of the new hires have been diverse. He also highlighted five women who were recruited to senior roles — including Emma Bredin, the new chief compliance officer for Raymond James; Kim Jenson, the new COO for employee-advisor channel Raymond James & Associates Private Client Group; and Grace Jackson, the new chief operating officer of Raymond James Bank.

“I really believe we have a unique atmosphere here for women, I really do, so it’s disappointing to me that [15%] statistic isn’t higher,” he said. “I understand why it didn’t grow the last two years because of these acquisitions. It really would have, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”

During her speech, Lynch discussed the several initiatives the Network for Women Advisors has taken to get more women into Raymond James and into the industry.

Part of that includes recruiting women from other firms, but Lynch admitted that’s not going to up the overall percentage of women.

We’re not going to stop trying to attract women from other firms, but if we really are going to make a difference moving that needle we’re not going to do it by shifting women from one firm to the next,” Lynch said. “So we have to identify ways to get more women into this profession.”

One way Raymond James has done this is to attract women from other careers.

It started a second-career initiative website about a year and a half ago to target women in other careers — schoolteachers, attorneys, real estate agents, psychologists — and try to interest them in this profession.

“We’ve seen a lot of traffic on the website. A lot of interest from women wanting to learn more about what it is that you do,” Lynch said. “And we’ve actually hired several of them into our advisor mastery training program. And we have a lot more still in the pipeline and we’re continuing to have those conversations.”

These aren’t big numbers, she added, but it is creating a pipeline that they didn’t have before.

Lynch also discussed the Registered Associate Mentoring Program (RAMP), a yearlong curriculum for registered sales associates that think they might want to become financial advisors.  

“On average we’re finding that 36% of the women who complete RAMP are moving into our [Advisor Mastery Program],” Lynch said. “Again, not big numbers, but a pipeline that didn’t exist before.”

Raymond James is also working with colleges and universities that offer a Certified Financial Planner program. The University of South Florida just launched its first CFP designation program, and Raymond James provided enough money to fund its first year.

“This is going to be a very organic and slow process but one we must start and one we must advocate for if we’re going to make a difference,” Lynch told the crowd. “It’s important that our workforce reflect the very diverse client base that we have and our clients of the future.”

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