Today's Advisory Career

Women in Financial Services

Building better connections through networking and collaboration

by Sherri DuMond

Ms. DuMond is President & CEO of Questar Capital Corporation Member FINRA/SIPC.

Fairly early in my career, I remember attending an industry event where, among the usual trinkets and tchotchkes, the organizers provided shirts for all attendees.

As I looked through the available sizes, I was disappointed to find only men’s large or extra-large options. Beginning my career as a financial advisor, I was one of only three women in a firm with more than 30 men, so I wasn’t naïve about the challenges women face in the male dominated financial services industry. Seeing the lack of gender diversity with that simple situation is one I still reflect upon when considering the role of women in this profession.

Still not enough

I’ve since held various management and leadership roles and observed many similar experiences that create a challenging environment for women desiring to build a career in financial services – from overt examples like the preponderance of sports-oriented networking events (clearly targeted at male advisors) to more subtle cases, like starting meetings or conferences at 7 a.m., which can be challenging for working mothers to attend.

Now with over 25 years of experience in this industry, I still see similar issues facing female financial professionals. While there are certainly more female advisors than when I began my career, the numbers are still too low.

According to an oft-cited statistic from the CFP Board, only 23% of certified financial professionals are women – and that percentage hasn’t moved in a decade. But it’s not too late to reverse this trend. With more programs designed to support both our male and female advisors combined with a stronger emphasis on teams and collaboration, I believe our industry can make real progress in changing the landscape for the better.

But what does she want?

I hear this all the time from my male peers and counterparts. The answer is actually quite simple – ask her. Particularly when it comes to gender preferences for recruitment and professional development within financial services, our industry has taken a “one size fits all” approach to these topics and that “one size” has served us well in attracting and rewarding men.

Female advisors appreciate approaches that allow for creativity, individualism, networking and sharing. I’ve found one of the most effective ways to achieve this is through specially designed women’s programs that address women’s unique needs and cater to their strengths.

Women are natural networkers and prefer a more creative environment that allows them to be expressive and take advantage of their relationship-building skills. The golf course is fine for some networking events, but women need more options.

At Questar, we developed the LINK (Lead. Inspire. Network. Know.) program to help our female financial advisors make better connections with their peers and feel more invested in their jobs. A variety of topics – such as practice management, life-work balance, running a tech-savvy office and best practice sharing – are explored via events, speakers, newsletters, and other opportunities to share and connect.

While there are certainly more female advisors than when I began my career, the numbers are still too low

Encouraging networking through women’s programs like LINK also creates more opportunities for mentoring, which is crucial to expanding the role of women in financial services. In many cases, women don’t have the time in their day-to-day schedules to connect with other successful advisors, especially female professionals.

With more chances to network throughout the industry, women can find other female leaders who can share their own experiences and provide perspective on how to deal with the many unique challenges faced by female financial professionals.

The Value of Collaboration

Programs targeting women are certainly important, but that doesn’t mean we ignore men in the larger equation. In fact, advocating a culture of mentoring, sharing and collaboration is a valuable way to advance the profession as a whole and create more dynamic opportunities for both male and female advisors to grow their practice.

Some of the strengths possessed by women, including relationship building, communication, creativity, and being sensitive to the needs of others, may actually be the perfect complement to a male advisor who might be more analytical in nature or perhaps more transaction oriented. In many cases, there may be an opportunity to strike the right balance that can result in an overall improved experience for the client.

Encouraging men and women to play to their strengths and work together fosters an environment high on teamwork, which is certainly great for the current atmosphere, but can also make a practice more attractive to future candidates. Millennials – often called the collaboration generation – are said to value a business culture focused on teamwork. By leveraging the unique skills that men and women bring to the table, and positioning this partnership as a true benefit for clients, women are more likely to share their talents, keeping them more engaged in the business.

A Good Idea for the Industry

We have collectively struggled over the past several years with how to create an environment conducive to helping women develop successful careers. In addition, better development of women advisors simply makes good business sense for the industry as women increasingly take the reins when it comes to family finances.

According to the Women, Money & Power Study from Allianz Life Insurance of North America, 60% of women said they are the primary breadwinner in their household and more than half (54%) of respondents described themselves as the household CFO. Many of these women may prefer to work with a female advisor. It’s important that our industry focuses on growing the talents and careers for both men and women to provide financial professionals for future generations of investors.

What does our industry need to do to get there? Maybe the easy first step is to start with having a variety of shirt sizes and gifts available at the next industry event, suitable for both men and women.

That would be a positive signal that our industry is moving in the right direction. But, the bigger impact happens when men and women alike have the opportunity to connect and develop successful careers. ◊