She finds that amusing, since the majority of her clients are men. "They tend to click with me," she says. And some of her male clients gain comfort knowing that their wives would be left in a woman's hands if something were to happen to them. That's all about perception, she says, because her office works as a team.

    "More often than not, being a woman opened doors for me-literally," says Laura Tarbox, of Tarbox Equity Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif. "Back when I first started out, I was cold calling and going door to door to different businesses in the area. Some of the men said they felt more comfortable letting a women know they didn't have a clue about money. In fact, it was tougher being young than being a woman."

    Some male advisors think that women make better clients.  "I always joke that testosterone is the worst hormone for investing," says Dale Yahnke of Dowling & Yahnke Inc. in San Diego, whose firm manages $800 million in assets. "Women clients are more patient and better listeners, and I think that goes over to the advisor side as well." Yahnke says that women clients tend to be more objective about their holdings, while men often resist selling a particular stock. Women are more concerned about the long term-will they have enough money to survive-than about short-term gains.

    "Women are very good researchers and will go to the library if they have to," says Kathleen Miller, MBA, CFP and president of Miller Advisors Inc. in Kirkland, Wash. Miller, who manages about $100 million in assets and specializes in divorce, believes the Internet has been a great equalizer for the sexes. "Women like to know and understand why, and they can do that research from home. It makes a big difference in a relationship if you're the one leaving or being left, and you need to understand the business aspects of the separation."
    Still, Ruhlin says, once clients have checked off the initial screens-that an advisor has the appropriate education and experience, that they're ethical and committed to keeping up their skills-the choice becomes purely about personality and relationship, regardless of gender.

    Yahnke agrees that clients choose advisors mainly on the basis of competence and personality. "Some older clients prefer to work with a man because it's a generational thing, where younger women might prefer a woman. But the bias cuts both ways."

    Succeeding in financial planning is difficult for both men and women, especially at wirehouses and brokerages, where newbies are typically given three years to turn a profit before being shown the door. Recently, Raymond James changed its barometer of success to a point system, which includes not only product sales but also assets under management, fees and professional designations earned. That's a big step forward for women, who tend to resist the "smile-and-dial" approach to selling products. As the model shifts from selling products to gathering fees, the biggest winners, insiders say, are clients.

    Bradley admits that times have changed, but that breaking in still holds unique challenges for women. "I don't think women have any trouble getting the facts and passing exams," she says. "But women advisors want to process those facts and understand them, and are often more fearful of making a mistake. In most industries where women excel in sales, they have a slower start time. Women want to be careful. They don't want to be wrong, and they want to be sure they know what they're talking about. Women are less inclined to 'fake it 'til you make it.' If they fail, they don't want it to be because they were reckless or silly or didn't know enough."

    Some women inadvertently broadcast signals about their lack of self-confidence, Starner says. "Women tend to use phrases like 'I'm sorry,' too easily. Men are insecure too, but they camouflage it."

    According to Miller, some women invest too much. "There's a delicate balance between being a helper and a decision-maker, and you need to draw the line," she says.

    Each generation of women faces its own crisis of confidence, Starner believes. In the old days, it was about making it in a man's world. Today, she says, it's about the guilt and pressure of doing it all, of being able to juggle a family and a career and excel at both. The fact is women starting out may work 80 to 100 hours a week, leaving little time for family. Successful women planners often enter the profession as a second career once their children are in school, or wait to have children until they are self-supporting. The lucky ones, like Lau and Starner, entered the profession when their children were in junior high school, and were able to rely on their husbands to support the family during the lean years of their practices. "Sure, no one gives you a quota when you're on your own, but if you're the sole breadwinner, putting food on the table is a quota too," says Lau, who expresses deep admiration for women who have gone it alone. In many cases, these women have opted to start a family after they become successful.