FSI panelists Suzanne Siracuse (left), Catherine Bonneau, Evamarie Schoenborn, Frieda Lewis and Lisa Burns.

Catherine Bonneau, chief operating officer of Cetera Financial Group, says she may have found a focal point that can help the advice industry add more women and minorities.  

Looking specifically at the independent channel and its struggle to raise the level of female and minority participation, the executive says she has thought about the challenge for years and concluded that one channel or segment may hold the secret to success. 

“The financial institutions channel is about 40% female in terms of its registered  representatives. And their performance is close to that or stronger than that of [advisors in] other channels,” Bonneau explained during a panel discussion Monday at the FSI OneVoice event in San Diego.

“Why the bank channel? It seems tied to compensation and benefits,” she said during a session focused on advancing women in leadership, and that has her feeling positive about diversity and inclusion in the business. 

“I’m hopeful for the profession, as it becomes less dependent on transactions and more dependent on financial planning and holistic services, that we can switch compensation and benefits in ways that will help [other channels]” become more diverse, Bonneau said.

Women are increasingly the heads of households or main breadwinners for their families, and that means “benefits are crucial,” she said, as are stable earnings or monthly income. 

“By tackling that benefits challenge, we can quickly level the playing field,” Bonneau said. “It’s up to the industry to see if we can do this.” 

More Secrets of Success

Other panelists at FSI described what their firms are doing to boost female participation and leadership. 

At Fidelity, there’s been a big focus on firm culture, according to Lisa Burns, head of platform technology for the firm’s institutional operations. 

“Embedded in the culture are employee resource groups, like the women’s leadership group that is 9,000 strong,” Burns said. “This is a significant network of women meeting and sharing around career development and jobs.”

Fidelity made big strides to have a “safe and respectful workplace” when it started a special program to support this effort two years ago, she explained. This entails classes with 10 to 20 employees in a room engaging in role play and related activities. 

“We effectively push diversity and inclusion into our DNA and … as we reengineered our hiring process,” Burns explained. “We looked at the job descriptions to see if they are inclusive and welcoming, for instance.”

Fidelity also is working to build a bigger pipeline and recruiting effort for women via new programs for liberal arts majors, paid internships for community college students, and a “returnship” for those who have been out of the professional world for a while and want to get back into it, she says.  

“Applicants slated for an interview, say in senior management, must come before a group that includes diversity and inclusion to … better evaluate them and do so without unconscious bias,” Burns said. 

‘Cultural Fit’

“We’ve done much of this, too,” said Frieda Lewis, chief commercial diversity officer of Broadridge. “Clearly there is a war for talent, especially diverse talent. To attract it, you go back to the corporate culture and ask if [these candidates] can be comfortable and speak their mind with you.”

Broadridge also looks at how many new diverse hires it has each quarter, how many diverse candidates were promoted, and how many left the firm, she added. 

To improve its diversity, Broadridge also looked at its job descriptions to remove bias and create diverse executive teams to conduct interviews. 

“Think about millennials,” Lewis said. “They are less concerned with pay, titles and benefits and are really looking at the cultural fit.”

Fidelity has a reverse mentorship program that pairs new hires who are millennials with senior leaders, according to Burns. The managers ask their younger colleagues, “Why did you come here, and what can we learn from digital natives like you?” she said.

Another tactic, according to Evamarie Schoenborn, president & CEO of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management, is to enhance diversity by working with many “influencers” and departments across a company. 

“I had so many male advocates along the way,” Schoenborn said. “Some of the best advocates for women are [men] with young daughters who want to create a better future for them.”

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