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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Firm Culture, Leadership Are Female Advisors’ Biggest Hurdles: Study

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What You Need to Know

  • Research from Carson Group and Hidden Insights Group reveals the main challenges women face in pursuing this career.
  • Female advisors work more effectively in teams and prefer hybrid compensation models, the research found.
  • They put a high value on advanced training and mentorship.

Women make up less than one-fifth of the financial advisor population in the U.S., an imbalance Carson Group wants to help rectify.

The firm recently partnered with Hidden Insights Group to dig into the main challenges women face in choosing a career as a financial advisor. The study finds that three in five participants consider “firm culture and leadership” their chief hurdle when joining the industry.

Balancing the needs of career and family has led to the perception that female advisors are less committed or engaged than their male counterparts. 

“Women account for an increasing amount of wealth in this country, and it’s imperative that we tap their unique perspective as we reinvent the advisory profession and financial services in general,” said Carson Group Co-President Teri Shepherd in a statement. 

“One of the things we learned is that women perform more effectively with a concept called ‘teaming’ — a functional structure that supports and highlights each member of the team for the specialties and skill sets they bring to the client experience, rather than the more traditional practice we’ve seen for decades, where a single advisor, primarily male, is solely spearheading the direction of the firm,” Shepherd explained.

The participants in the quantitative and qualitative survey include 60 elite female wealth advisors and financial planners from around the country, most with more than a decade of professional experience and upward of 50 clients, according to Carson Group and Hidden Insights Group. 

Female Advisor Preferences

Female advisors in the survey prefer hybrid compensation models (salary and variable compensation), which they view as providing some level of financial security; they also value the support of a team-based structure.

Forty-seven percent believe client referrals are a cornerstone of their practice, making this the most effective sales approach for women, according to the study.

More than half of participants say mentoring and coaching are critical to their development as advisors. 

Female advisors prioritize the need for enhanced training programs that focus on relationship building, financial planning and operational excellence, as well as more intentional mentorship programs with more female leaders available to mentor.

Though challenging to implement with the default organizational chart, teaming should be a priority because of its multiple benefits, according survey participants, who believe teaming increases opportunity for personal development, builds an effective succession plan and delivers a more compelling client experience.

Differences Among Advisors

The survey and focus group sessions conducted by Carson and Hidden Insights reveal that the most important cultural elements that contribute to a female advisor’s success are work-life balance, empowerment and collaboration. 

“This survey reinforced just how different management styles can be between men and women as well as how Carson’s female advisors differ from those in the rest of the industry,” Shepherd added. 

According to 74% of Carson’s female advisors, the primary motivation for becoming advisor is to help people with their finances, compared with 52% of respondents from other firms.

Compensation is the main motivation for 3% of non-Carson advisors, but not for any of those affiliated with Carson.

Advisors in other firms say they have seen only a moderate increase in support for the growth and development of women. In contrast, Carson advisors state they have seen a lot of progress.

Differences also appear on the biggest hurdles female advisors face: Sixty-five percent of Carson advisors believe challenges are tied to practice management and administration, and 52% cite work-life balance.

Fifty-five percent of advisors with other firms see the biggest hurdle to their career as selling, and 52% say it is practice management and administration.

“What made this survey so compelling to furthering female advisor growth was the combination of qualitative and quantitative data,” explained Jennifer Rutley, founder and principal at Hidden Insights Group, in the statement. 

“Participating advisors not only had real insights to review what our survey findings revealed but also had the chance to discuss the revelations among the cohort. This gave us the opportunity to not only present data but discuss potential solutions to the challenges and opportunities uncovered.” 

Pictured: Carson Group Co-President Teri Shepherd.