In part one of this article, we explored why women are still in the minority in this profession. But we also looked at how far they have come in our industry, recounting the stories of four successful female advisors. (To read part one, visit the Online Extras section of www.fa-mag.com). From the stories we shared in part one, a few themes emerged:
Women work extremely hard and often harder than men to get ahead.
Female advisors have in the past had their accomplishments minimized by colleagues and clients because of their gender.
Successful female advisors perceive gender as neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.
The female advisors we interviewed believe women are naturally good listeners and gifted in forming relationships.
Ever since Rosie the Riveter kicked open the door to the workplace during World War II, women have made their way into most industries in increasing numbers. Medical schools commonly report that more than 50% of those entering classes are women. The worlds of dentistry and the clergy have also experienced dramatic gender shifts. But it's taking longer to bring higher numbers of females into the financial services orbit. Today less than 30% of financial advisors are women.
Many think the things that make women good medical professionals and clergy members should also make them good financial planners. So why is there slower growth in our field? Is it a lack of confidence among women in their math skills? A lack of role models? Or is it perhaps a life balance problem-a challenge facing women to handle both growing families and a growing book of clients?
What To Do?
Given these problems, should our industry take proactive steps to increase its number of women? Some observers argue yes. Advocates believe the natural affinity of women for financial advising means they should get support for their careers. Others say no. Either way, here's a look at some of the issues facing women in our field.
There's a perception that women aren't as comfortable with math. Within the last couple of years, Reuters reported on studies showing that girls in the United States now perform similar to boys on standardized math tests at nearly all grade levels. Yet there's a widely held perception they score lower. If young women themselves think that way, it could be one of the reasons more of them don't enter financial services.
The fact is that relationship skills trump math skills in an advisor's daily work anyway. "[But] if the market tanks and clients are asking hard truths about their investments, the advisor needs more than relationship skills," says Deb Brede, an advisor with D.K. Brede Investment Management Company Inc. in Needham, Mass. "From a production perspective, advisors can be successful in the short term by being the 'front' person, but then you better have great people, such as portfolio constructors and analysts, behind you."
Women often feel they must not only meet expectations, but exceed them. That was the finding of a 2008 Catalyst Inc. study called "Women and Men in Canadian Investment Dealers and U.S. Financial Services," and it was certainly a theme with the five women we profiled.
Even if it is true that women are naturally oriented to be great financial planners, the female advisor needs to know her stuff cold, even more so than a successful male advisor does, successful female advisors say.
Some aren't sticking with the profession. Entering the career is one thing, but staying with it is something else. Erin Botsford of the Botsford Group (a firm with offices in Texas, Georgia and New Jersey) says some women treat the profession like a cottage industry, without making a serious commitment to it. In the long term, this can stunt their role in the industry and keep their ranks from growing beyond 25%.
One way to encourage women to maintain their careers is to form support organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based CFP Study Group, which has been around for 23 years. The 15 female members of the group-RIAs or senior advisors affiliated with different broker/dealers-dine together four or five times annually. All members have at least ten years of experience and are FPA members; most of them are business owners. They gather to discuss issues such as compliance, practice management, investments and fees.