Saturday, June 22, 2024

How to Make Your Firm a Best Place to Work for Women Advisors -Dlight News

Women are carving out new levels of success in the world of wealth management, and there’s no question they’re here to stay. But with women making up just 30 percent of advisors, there’s still progress to be made toward equal workforce representation.

One area that needs to catch up to make wealth management a more attractive career path for women? Compensation. Women advisors take home only 65 cents per dollar pocketed by their male counterparts. Workplace culture plays a large part in closing the earning gap and creating workplaces that reflect the reality of women’s lives and contributions.

That stubborn glass ceiling still exists—men are still more likely to receive promotions than women, for example—but in an era where women advisors have more professional options than ever, career stagnation could motivate your advisors to take their talents elsewhere. Codifying your firm’s commitment to gender parity can positively impact your efforts to recruit women advisors and improve retention rates.

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Becoming a best place to work for women advisors won’t happen overnight. But there are immediate steps firms can take to build greater inclusivity into policies, procedures, and perspectives to make themselves more attractive to candidates.

Understand the Power of Workplace Culture

The concept of workplace culture has undergone significant revisions over time. Thankfully, it has transcended foosball tables and bagel Fridays to mean something more substantive—but also slippery.

How do you build a culture? How do you measure it? How do you achieve true inclusivity? The task is a serious one, and most firms probably know by now that building a work culture that’s welcoming to all isn’t a part-time endeavor. It requires strategy, investment, and a transparent feedback process.

If your firm promotes a culture of “insiders” and “outsiders”—those who fit in and those who don’t—it may be time to take stock of your values and create conditions where all candidates and employees feel welcome, supported, and equally valued.

What’s one quick way to gut-check how welcoming your business may be to a woman? Scan your About Us or Leadership bios page. If you’re showcasing an all-male team, a reset may be in order.

Keep the Dialogue Open—and Supportive

Facilitating opportunities for women to build personal rapport with peers or senior team leaders is one way firms can build a more supportive and connected culture. Whether these mentorship pairs are matched by gender or not, the goal is to provide women advisors with a support system outside of the more formal boss and direct report dynamic.

For women navigating a male-heavy environment, the value is clear: Having another woman or ally to bounce questions off of can help reduce feelings of alienation, contribute to stronger working relationships, and provide women advisors with regular access to their colleagues’ expertise.

Providing women advisors with opportunities to build their networks through attending conferences, events, and industry meetings is equally important. Whether it’s a regional conference for professional development—like the Massachusetts Conference for Women, which Commonwealth sponsors—or a nationwide event for women in financial management, supporting women-to-women professional connections is key to building a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Offer Flexible Scheduling and Leave Policies

One topic that comes up repeatedly when we talk to women advisors? Work/life balance. Juggling work and family is hard for everyone—but it’s hardest, most often, on women. Women still shoulder the lion’s share of the “second shift,” dedicating significant hours per week to unpaid caregiving for children or elderly relatives.

Candi Kaplan, CFP®, RHU, ChFC®, founder and senior partner of Kaplan Financial Group, recently shared reflections on the balancing act she maintained during her 45-year career.

“It was very difficult,” Kaplan said. “It took an enormous amount of energy and focus to be able to do everything I was able to do. I was a minority all the time, always surrounded by male colleagues. Of course, the way men interact with their families has changed—but more often than not, the caregiving role still goes to the woman.”

Flexible scheduling

Flexible scheduling can provide breathing room and space for women to stay professionally engaged. If women advisors are running from the office to family medical appointments or managing other logistical demands, client and prospect meetings outside of office hours become untenable, for example. (The flip side? Some women don’t have any such responsibilities. Assuming that all women are caregivers and therefore have limited availability has the unintended consequence of limiting women’s ability to say yes to projects, travel, and opportunity.)

Open communication is crucial. Find ways to include everyone who should be in the room, even if they aren’t there in real time. A simple acknowledgment and follow-up, such as “Laura couldn’t be here today; I’ll be sending her the meeting recording and notes later,” goes a long way.

Leaves of absence (LOAs)

A workplace culture that respects and anticipates the complexity of women’s responsibilities may also include easier access to leaves of absence (e.g., family or bereavement leave) and new parent supports like tiered reentry hours following a birth or adoption.

Paying attention to how incidental and long-term absences are supported can go a long way toward keeping women at the table, buffering them against burnout and your firm against attrition.

Regardless of your firm’s size, flexible scheduling and reentry policies should be clearly documented in your employee handbook, which you can highlight as a competitive advantage during recruitment.

As Kaplan reflects on the work/life balance dynamics she has seen play out over decades of cultural change, her advice to managers today is simple: “Don’t use the same model for everybody. It just doesn’t work. And some men need that flexibility, too.”

Elevate Women Advisors Through Purposeful Development

While sink or swim used to be the ethos of many workplaces, we’ve entered a new era of mutual accountability. Expecting a lot from your employees requires you to give a lot, too, in terms of development opportunities.

Commonwealth launched the Women of Commonwealth initiative to hold up our end of the bargain, helping women advisors achieve their personal and business-related goals, build allies, and strengthen the Commonwealth community.

Backed by a dedicated internal steering committee and an advisory council of 17 women advisors, the initiative’s annual event, the Summit for Women Advisors, is an opportunity to promote growth and influence change.

As you consider the best development programs or events for your firm, it’s important to take stock of the current state of career pathway planning and accountability at your practice. What is currently documented and systematized—and what could feel subjective and arbitrary to your employees?

Especially when it comes to nurturing next-gen talent (more than 13,000 young advisors left the industry in 2022—ouch), a transparent and decidedly gender-neutral pathway is key to keeping advisors confident and engaged in their growth trajectory.

This level of soul-searching is a tall order, so an external consultant is often the best fit for the job—someone who can analyze your policies, personnel demographics, pay data, and employee sentiment. A deep understanding of your current environment will help support the success of any women-specific development opportunities you employ.

Maintain Momentum Toward Change

In the early 1980s, after being rebuffed by the New York Stock Exchange (“We don’t hire women,” she was told), Kaplan forged her way into the world of insurance. As she advanced through her first year, she set her sights on qualifying for the Million Dollar Roundtable, a prestigious high-performance club. It was only after she qualified that she learned about the Women’s Leaders Roundtable, an organization for women agents in the business. Their sales goal? Just $250,000.

“I thought to myself, ‘That’s not for me.’ I don’t want to be second-best. I want to compete with the men,” Kaplan says. “Today, I think many barriers have come down. However, I don’t know if there will ever be as many women as men in financial services,” she continues.

We’ve come a long way since the NYSE could slam its door in a woman’s face. Yet, according to recent McKinsey & Company research, financial services leadership still skews significantly male, and significantly white.

Individual firm efforts can’t change industry trends overnight. But inclusive cultures at independent offices can serve as a beacon for talent, a model for peers, and a message to the broader industry.

And when you consider the historic shift in wealth that’s set to take place—by 2030, women are poised to control much of the $30 trillion in financial assets that baby boomers will possess, according to McKinsey & Company—firms that fail to invest in recruiting, retaining, and elevating women advisors will miss the moment.

“After years of playing second fiddle to men, women are poised to take center stage,” McKinsey concludes. It will also be incumbent upon firms to prepare for the incoming wave of widows who will be looking for advisors they can relate to and trust.

With women set to hold and control more wealth than ever in the coming years, shouldn’t more women advisors be in place to help manage it?

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