Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong/© theispot.com

When RBC Wealth Management was looking to add more women to its advisory team, the firm turned to Google for guidance (not web searches). Google’s first efforts at diversifying its workforce had run into headwinds, so the tech giant researched which career areas were most attractive to women.

The answer: lawyers, doctors and forensic scientists. When Google staff dug deeper, they found out it was largely due to Hollywood — thanks to TV shows like “Ally McBeal” (law), “Grey’s Anatomy” (medicine) and “CSI”/“NCIS” (forensic science), which all had strong female characters.

“We don’t have [direct] access to Hollywood, so we thought [putting together] a video series would be a good approach for people to see [that it's] not a specific path you have to follow to be a successful financial advisor,” said Kristen Kimmel, chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management-U.S. “What it really comes [down] to is relationship management — to listen, to have empathy, to problem solve and to multi-task, which are often common characteristics of females.”

According to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, about 19% of all advisors are women and only 10% are multicultural — African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics or members of other non-Caucasian ethnic groups. Cerulli Associates sets the number of female advisors at 16%, or about 50,000 of the roughly 300,000 advisors nationwide. On a positive note, 24% of new advisors are women, so it appears diversity programs are having an impact.

That’s good news considering women control slightly more wealth than men today, an estimated $14 trillion — or 51% — as of 2015, according to the Bank of Montreal, and they will control an estimated $20 trillion by 2020. Add to the mix the potential of losing 40% of advisors to retirement in the next 10 years, and there’s little doubt that the industry needs women to cope with its need for more financial advisors.

Several broker-dealers have launched or redesigned programs to attract women and minorities to become financial advisors to bulk up their teams and reach new clientele. Some are recruiting more financial advisors from other firms, training existing client associates interested in developing or changing their careers, and reaching out to the broader populace to attract those looking either for second careers or their first job right out of college.

Firm Focus

In November, Edward Jones announced its efforts to re-establish its Bridge Program, designed to reach minority advisors such as African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and others — including veterans, the disabled and members of the LGBT community. The program formerly ran from 2011 to 2014.

The Women’s Initiative for New Growth Strategies (or WINGS) relaunch, which preceded the second start of the Bridge program earlier this year, had been in place from 2008 to 2014. The prior programs fell short of expectations, but now Edward Jones has reimplemented them with more a structured and strategic format, says Monica Giuseffi, principal of inclusion and diversity at Edward Jones. “Our charter is to move the needle. We want to advance diversity in our field,” she explained.

The reason for the latest thrust is twofold. In June, CEO Jim Weddle signed a pledge with 150 other CEOs to be more inclusive in the workplace. Currently, explains Giuseffi, the firm’s share of women is in line with the industry, at 19%. It lags with respect to minorities, at 7%, while the industry is at 10% inclusion.

However, she points out that the firm hopes that 50% of its field agents will be women and 33% diverse over roughly the next five years, although there is no precise timeframe for this target. Another reason for Edward Jones’ push, the executive adds, is that this program worked well at the corporate headquarters in St. Louis, so the firm decided to push the new structured initiative into the field.

The WINGS and Bridge programs are aggressive multi-point action plans to attract and train new minority advisors. First, the firm used U.S. census data, along with its own data, to gather metrics to determine the diversity of each of its 274 regions to provide a baseline.

In addition, each area leader receives a fact sheet on the ethnic/gender makeup of a specific region with set goals for recruiting. Next, the firm defines growth objectives and how they will be measured and offers leadership opportunities to its recruits.

Other aspects of Edward Jones’ efforts include coaching and mentorship programs to help new advisors succeed. “Early data is astounding. Attrition falls off significantly if women and [members of] diverse [groups] participate…,” said Giuseffi.

The firm also trains recruits on client-sourcing strategies, such as social media marketing, networking and hosting seminars. It hopes these efforts will attract and inspire more individuals to join the firm and embrace new methods for reaching a diverse client base within in the community.

Work also is being done in collaboration with Edward Jones’ internal-growth division. These efforts include hosting regional summits and asking leaders across the company to share strategies on community outreach.

Creating a Path

Female advisors are “significantly underrepresented in the industry,” according to RBC’s Kimmel, and the firm believes “women FAs are good for the industry, good for the business and most of all … good for clients.”

The career of some financial advisors doesn’t have a natural progression, “so a lot of females aren’t exposed to it in a way that fits them. Following a bit from actress Geena Davis’ campaign, ‘If she can see it she can be it,’ we try to create a path for women to see themselves in these roles,” explained Kimmel.

The videos provided on RBC’s website offer background stories on how various women have become financial advisors. For example, Heather Krause, now a senior vice president at RBC, was an aerospace engineer who wanted a career change that would give her the freedom to raise her family and allow her to keep using her analytical skills.

Another video highlights Darla Kashian, an English major who worked in the non-profit sector and as cook with the plan of becoming a chef. One day she got a cold call from RBC and decided to make a major career change at age 40. She never looked back. (The videos can be seen at: www.rbcwealthmanagement.com/us/en/about-us/careers/your-path.)

“We’re going about [the push to increase the number of women advisors] in a few different ways,” Kimmel explained. The first way is targeting women who want a second career.

The firm also is “creating a formalized campaign for our client-facing support [staff members] to allow them to see themselves in the role of advisors …. Third, we are trying to bring more awareness of this industry in partnering with colleges and universities, where we can get an earlier start talking to women” and expose them to successful female professionals, she said.

Surveys show that about 70% of women investors prefer to work with female advisors. “If we have less than 20% female advisors [in the industry overall], there’s a significant mismatch. That’s why we see this as a great opportunity,” Kimmel added.

Why do women investors generally prefer to work with women advisors? Some women feel vulnerable when discussing their wealth and personal goals, she explains. Thus, many of them feel more comfortable working with a woman around these private matters, much as they may prefer having female doctors with whom they can discuss their health.

Strong Networks

Raymond James started its women’s networking program about 24 years ago, when a group of women advisors went offsite to talk about business and share ideas and challenges, says Michelle Lynch, vice president of the Network for Women Advisors. After this meeting, they approached then-CEO (and now Chairman Emeritus) Tom James about starting a network for all women advisors to join; he “wholeheartedly” backed it, she says.

“That’s how it started, as a way for women to connect with each other,” Lynch explained. “Fast forward 24 years, and we have three dedicated full-time people whose job is nothing but this network.”

The firm also has practice management groups and offers coaching, in addition to its annual Women’s Symposium and regional networking events. This spring, Raymond James launched a twice-a-year magazine, Aspire, to create awareness about the advisory profession, as well as to bring other female advisors into the firm.

“On the recruiting side, we talk to experienced advisors who are looking to change firms,” Lynch said. “But we’ve been focused on how we get women in, so we’ve been targeting women who want to make a career change, as well as those who want to re-enter the work force after taking time off to raise children or take care of parents. We also work with colleges and universities who offer the CFP program and designation.”

Another program Raymond James kicked off a couple years ago is directed at sales assistants interested in becoming advisors. “We created a road map for them, a year-long program in which they get their Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) designation and also partner them with a woman mentor,” she explained.

“At the end of that year, if they decide to become an advisor, they move into our [advisor] training program,” Lynch said. About 35% of women completing this year-long program move into the advisor training program.

There’s also “quite a bit” of interest from those women seeking to change careers, she adds. In fact, the firm has developed a website to market its training program to teachers, attorneys, psychologists and real-estate agents. “We’ve found many don’t know this profession exists,” Lynch noted.

Why those careers? “We polled existing women advisors, many of whom are career changers themselves …” and looked at the characteristics that made them well suited for the advisory profession, she said.

“Like with school teachers, there’s certainly an element of education that goes along in this profession in educating clients around different investments. There’s also a huge psychological component as well when dealing with people’s emotions as it relates to money,” Lynch explained.

Currently, 15% of Raymond James’ advisory team is made up of women. However, she says, when she started in the role two years ago, women accounted for about 20-25% of participants in the firm’s training programs. Today that level is 40-45%, which shows the programs are working, she says.

A Broad Net

Many firms across the advisory business have different forms of diversity programs. For example, Baird’s Private Wealth Management unit offers a two-year full-time rotational program that provides work experience and learning opportunities in select wealth -management functional areas.

“The Foundations Program serves as a foundation for entry to a long-term career in wealth management as a financial advisor and is designed to attract top talent to wealth management,” said Annie Murphy, a public relations coordinator for Baird. The program helps fill Baird’s staff pipeline with new associates while promoting diversity in age, gender and ethnicity.

Other firms focus both on gender and age. For example, Cambridge Investment Research has Next Step — a generational internship program. Broader efforts focus on coaching, engagement and solutions related to succession and acquisition planning. “Since around 2010, we’ve been focused on gender and generational diversity,” said Cindy Schaus, Cambridge’s first vice president of public relations and creative marketing.

“In terms of active independent advisors, 17% are women and 22% of active independent advisors are under age 40, while 8% are over age 70,” Schaus explained. “These percentages have remained on pace over the last several years as our total active independent advisors has increased more than 50%.”

Cambridge also hosts idea-sharing calls each month hosted by a female coach in practice management. Its yearly Cambridge Women Advisor Forum has included female senior executives and, naturally, CEO Amy Webber — a strong role model both for female advisors and for the broader financial-services industry.