I concluded five years serving the Women’s Advisors Council for Raymond James, and saying goodbye was hard to do. Over this time, I was personally transformed and blessed to witness shared commitment to changing the opportunity set for women financial advisors.

With progress comes ambition and a quest for more. Opportunities that didn’t exist a few years ago are relevant today. As I say goodbye to my time for on this council, I remain dedicated to persistent advocacy for change. I have some suggestions for our current generation of women’s networks. Many of this is already being incorporated throughout our profession, but there’s always room for more collective success.

  • Define your mission and maintain focus. Make sure your mission and strategy are crystal clear. Without them, everything that relates to women will be added to your plate. For most women’s finance networks, the goal is to support and grow the ranks of women advisors. The uninformed might assume this is interchangeable with advisors who work with women clients. You may end up hosting women’s client events or taking on the challenge of working with women clients. That’s fine if that’s your goal, but believe it or not, some advisors who happen to be women also work with men. And the undefined “everything that relates to women” mission can distract from the critical, focused work that needs to be done in expanding our ranks.
  • Ask the difficult questions. Diversity and inclusion networks are not without their own sacred cows. How are you reaching the least represented contingents of your population? How are you coordinating or competing with other underrepresented advisor communities such as the youngest of our ranks or people of color? Don’t shy away from difficult conversations.
  • Get young. We can’t continue to cannibalize advisors who have already found our profession by exclusively competing for their affections. We must attract and recruit career changers, college grads, and even “plant a seed” with high school and junior high students. But how do we relate if our networks are populated primarily by the most accomplished, longest tenured members of an affiliation? In a profession where anyone under 40 feels “young” we need to get younger. Include as many or more 20 or 30 somethings than you do 40 to 60 somethings in your leadership and reach out to support and connect with the youngest entrants to our profession.
  • Rip up the script. The old script is insufficient. Our numbers don’t seem to be budging while other professions seem to be solving their diversity problems everywhere except at the top. I think this means that the old script doesn’t speak to our future peers. It’s not about a fear of math. If it were, accounting wouldn’t be attracting so many women. It’s probably also not about a fear of sales – and why is sales even a part of the conversation? The most successful new financial advisors relate, they don’t sell. I think our issue is visibility. Gosh, I wish that STEM was STEMF instead. If only that rolled off the tongue. Moreover, why can’t we have the Olivia Pope or Kerry Washington of financial advisors? We need a collective promotional campaign pronto!!
  • Educate. When will we stop educating on diversity in segmented rooms? It’s awfully safe to tell a room full of women about our commitment to change. The industry and profession modus operandi are to offer a breakout for the females or people of color where you can dive deep on the challenges of diversity. Rip up this script! The consequences of maintaining our non-diverse ranks and the reality of being a professional minority need to be discussed in mixed company. We will ALL pay for it as we become irrelevant when the rest of the world decides they’ve had enough. Sure, some men and women will walk out if a diversity topic is on the main stage at a professional conference (or preferably every professional conference), but others will change their perceptions and actions. We can’t limit our sermon to the ears of the choir anymore.
  • Collaborate. That much wished-for promotional campaign for visibility will not have the impact that we need if it’s hosted by a singular company or organization. We must get to know each other and collaborate. Band together across affiliations, channels, companies, etc. We are NOT competing on this issue. Let’s put our money where our mouth is and ALL chip in to create something that our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and neighbors can see to know that the career of a financial advisor is a calling. Speaking of collaboration, we’re doing a better job of enlisting our male allies in these efforts. Keep up that good work! There is much more of opportunity to share our collective passion for this mission with our male peers.
  • Measure. We can do a better job of quantifying our challenges. The commonly floated numbers of females, around 15% of financial advisors and 23% of certified financial planner practitioners are amorphous. In a world where we have more and more granular data, let’s take stock at the pace of change in specific populations. Are we changing the percentages in our youngest ranks? What’s retention and attraction in flexible workplaces relative to old-school offices? What is the pace of success and growth for more diverse firms? Are there specific organizations who are succeeding and what are they doing right? What’s the state of professional satisfaction for our female ranks? Let’s look at some of McKinsey’s pioneering work on Women in the Workplace and solicit studies of advisor populations that are similar.
  • Commit BHAGs and SMART goals alike. What compelling business ever found success without a BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL? None that I’m interested in emulating. But you need specific, achievable goals that fit with your mission as well. So often, the numbers seem daunting and leadership shies away from embracing the BHAG. Starting with specific, measurable goals and asks may pave the way for the BHAG conversation sooner. We are not going to make the progress we need without lofty expectations for ourselves.

We can do this. Without action, we risk the possibility of being left behind. Addressing the challenges of diversity and inclusion will expand the populations we serve and our opportunities for success in the future both as a collective profession and within your businesses. Celebrate accomplishments thus far and then adapt from what got us here to where we need to go now. The time is now. Let’s do it. We’ve got this!

Melissa Joy is president of Pearl Financial Planning.

Any opinions are those of Melissa Joy and not necessarily those of Raymond James.