The financial service business has been talking about doing more to add and support female advisors for a number of years, but, frankly, despite all the chatter, we’re not making enough progress. Women still account for less than 20% of all independent financial advisors.
It’s time to get serious.
Not only is it good to have the makeup of independent firms reflect the broader national demographics but also it is a strategic imperative. Instead of empty platitudes, therefore, firms must begin to put words into action when it comes to both bringing more women into the industry and actively supporting their growth.
We also need to remedy the problem that women already working as advisors encounter all too often: getting bogged down in empty conversations as they attempt to make meaningful professional connections and expand their referral network.
By both building on our existing initiatives and creating new opportunities — in no small part by making investments into successful programs and industry groups that make a difference — independent broker-dealers and RIAs can boost professional development and growth for female advisors.
Road Map to Change
Specifically, there are a few things we could be doing better to initiate positive change in these areas. The first is creating forums that allow women to feel comfortable sharing their gender-related professional concerns. Female advisors, especially those who are in the growth phase of their careers, need to be able to talk to peers about the challenges they face.
Often, though, they aren’t afforded that opportunity, with many uneasy about speaking openly in male-dominated settings, which are the norm given the current demographics of the industry. We must better facilitate the free exchange of ideas, not only among other female advisors but with other professional women as well, regardless of the industry.
Indeed, whether someone is in financial services is frequently not as important as whether they can share relatable and useful insights that others can leverage to their advantage. This could include anything from tips for running a small business in a male-dominated field or clues for how to maintain a meaningful work-life balance while trying to raise a family and juggle a demanding career.
Whatever the case, many women advisors are not getting the opportunity to network in this fashion. Firms need to find a way to provide it to them, even if it means partnering with an outside resource.
Second, we need to do a better job of communicating the benefits of being a financial advisor. Many young people coming out of college, for instance, do not consider financial services as a career option because they have the mistaken impression that they’ll sit in a cubicle and be tied to a desk nine hours a day.
Furthermore, for many outsiders, this is a sales-focused, product-based business. The truth, of course, is that independent advisors are small-business owners and this industry is rooted in relationships, not hard-driving, boiler room sales tactics.
At the end of the day, advisors have a level of entrepreneurial freedom and flexibility that does not exist in many other professions. The problem is that most young people, or those looking to shift careers, have no idea that this is the case. If they did, it would make the industry more attractive, both from a personal and professional standpoint.
We need to tout the unique benefits of working in an industry that provides its people the best of both worlds — the opportunity to earn a great living and make a difference in people’s lives, while still having a fulfilling home life. Today, we are not doing a good job of communicating these advantages.
Third, firms should diversify their conference agendas, which typically, and perhaps unwittingly, cater to men. Many of us are making great strides in this area, with firms and industry organizations making a concerted effort to address women-specific issues.
Still, it would be a good thing for our space if more gatherings included breakout sessions, panel discussions and presentations by thought leaders that focus on the concerns of women trying to navigate financial services successfully.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, because, truthfully, there’s so much more we need to do to bring qualified female candidates into the industry and improve how the public views the financial advice industry in general.
If we make strides in these areas, it would represent a great restart of the conversation that has been ongoing for years.
Cristi Meyers is practice management consultant for ProEquities, an Birmingham, Alabama-based firm.