During World War II, Rosie the Riveter started a woman's revolution by working in factories. Since then, women have made their way into all sectors and levels of the workforce. Today, an increasing number of families in the U.S. have a female breadwinner. And although the salary gap between men and women still exists, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, it is shrinking.

What about the financial services industry, specifically? In November 2009, as reported by FINRA, there were 642,689 registered advisors in the U.S. And according to research firms Cerulli Associates Inc. and Prince & Associates, there will be 400,000 financial advisors in the U.S. by the end of 2010. But accurate data on the number of women in our business is hard to find. More helpful are figures shared by the Financial Planning Association; it has 23,814 members, 27.6% of whom are women. Among the 61,971 CFPs in the U.S., 23% are female.

So, clearly, women are the minority. There are a few commonly cited reasons for this:

    Typically, by middle school, girls begin to score significantly lower in math than boys. By high school, this influences their choice of courses and, ultimately, their career paths, as they shy away from math-related careers. Although relationship skills trump math skills in the daily work of a financial advisor, one can understand why a young woman might not choose it as a career. "Financial advisor" means money; money means numbers; and numbers mean math.

    Women also lack role models in the business and awareness about the field. Financial advising is still a relatively new industry, not as well understood as careers in academia, health care and technology. Because there are fewer women in financial services, there are fewer role models to spread the word that the profession offers excellent opportunities for women.

    After the birth of a child, some women work part time, some stop working for a few years, and others leave the workforce entirely. If a woman does continue her career, she then typically holds two jobs-one outside and one inside the home. While traditional roles may be shifting, we cannot ignore the fact that this presents challenges, particularly for women in financial services. For example, clients' financial goals and needs alter with changing circumstances, and circumstances can change quickly. It is unlikely an advisor can step away for a few years and expect her clients to be waiting when she returns. Stepping away typically means starting over.  

Evolution: The Profession's Embrace Of Woman
How do female advisors overcome traditional barriers? The answer appears to be: one advisor and one story at a time. What follows are the stories of four successful women who have been in the industry for 30 years or more.

Deb's story. Debra Brede of D.K. Brede Investment Management Company, Inc. in Needham, Mass., had been planning to attend medical school, but first went to work as an assistant in a wirehouse the summer before she was to start her premed program. But sometimes when you're planning other things, life takes over.

She learned her role quickly, displaying a talent for solving operational problems. When her supervisor suddenly died, she got a promotion. As it happened, the firm was about to merge, and she became the "go-to" person sent to address operational issues at multiple branches in the newly formed organization.

After so many twists of fate, Deb put aside medicine and instead decided to become an advisor. After an 18-month training program, she began to build a solid book of clients by working many hours, including weekends.

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