Brie Williams of State Street Brie Williams of State Street.

Understanding and solving the gender imbalance in the finance industry will take more than just acknowledging it, according to Brie Williams, head of practice management at State Street Global Advisors.

The statistics — showing only about 16% of the total advisor population and 23% of certified financial planners are women — “unfortunately haven’t moved a lot,” Williams told ThinkAdvisor.

In fact, the CFP percentage has remained flat for the last decade. This is despite research showing that greater gender diversity throughout a firm creates greater cognitive diversity and leads to better outcomes — for investors and for the industry.

“As an industry we need to have a more diverse representation of financial investment professionals to serve that more diverse representation of investors,” Williams said. “If we can start moving these numbers in a more positive direction, our growth depends on it.”

In an interview at ThinkAdvisor’s office, Williams called on wealth management firms to do more than just acknowledge the challenge at hand and effect change with actions that will create sustainable transformation at the cultural level.

According to Williams, this will require firms to “really look at policies and programs as well as training to create the change and go beyond just simply gender targets, which are helpful but on their own insufficient.”

Instead, Williams said firms must actively manage the change required to eliminate biases that hinder progress.

“Monitoring the progress is really key, and that requires a commitment from the top,” Williams said. “You have to hold yourself accountable as a firm and look at what type of progress are we making.”

Williams also addressed this in a recent blog post, where she outlined questions that can help push for personal reflection by individuals and organizational accountability for firms.

Those questions include:

  • Are there policies and protocols that we can begin to implement today, to help recruit, hire, coach and mentor women for greater inclusion?
  • Where can we introduce bias interrupters, to tear down real and perceived roadblocks?
  • Do we have programs to provide opportunities for junior to mid-career individuals to work directly with firm leadership on strategic projects?
  • How will senior management improve transparency and communication to foster a gender-balanced culture?

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