Women advisers: 'Take that step forward'

Women have no less ambition, rights activist said at symposium aimed at helping female advisers build successful businesses

Oct 22, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

By Liz Skinner

Women's rights activist Gloria Feldt called on the female financial advisers of Raymond James Financial Inc. to reach out to other women and have the courage to raise the issues that make it difficult for women to reach the highest levels in business, especially in the male-dominated financial sector.

On the first of a three-day female-adviser symposium sponsored by the regional brokerage, Ms. Feldt pointed out Monday that women make up 51% of the population and 47% of the workforce but only 18% of the executive leadership at corporations.

Don't miss: InvestmentNews' in-depth look at women in financial advice

"Women don't have less ambition, but they have less intention," said Ms. Feldt, former chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Take that step forward."

About 185 female advisers and 20 women contemplating becoming part of Raymond James attended its 19th annual conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., aimed at providing extra resources to help female advisers build their businesses. About 15% of the firm's 5,300 advisers are women, an amount that beats the industry average of about 9% of women who are client-facing financial advisers, according to data from Cerulli Associates Inc.

The firm has tried to boost its female-adviser numbers even further over the years through recruitment programs targeted at female-dominated industries such as teaching and real estate. But it hasn't really worked, said Nicole Spinelli, director of Raymond James' Network for Women Advisors.

This year, the company is focusing on building a strong mentoring program, including training for both mentors and protégées, to try to encourage more women to stay in the industry and build successful firms.

"There seems to be no rhyme or reason for who has the tenacity to do this," she said.

The 2013 InvestmentNews/Moss Adams Adviser Compensation and Staffing Study found that four ascending advisory career positions have fewer and fewer women as the levels increase. About 44% of analysts are women, 36% of lead advisers are women, one-quarter of practicing partners are women and just 14% of managing partners are women, according to the survey, which sampled 309 advisory firms.

One factor for the drop-off, according to the study's authors, is that women have joined the profession more recently and are still “bubbling up” through each role. Or, they said, women may be dropping off the adviser career track before reaching the next promotion.

While a few especially feminine touches stood out at the conference, including the pink rhinestone badge holders and early-morning yoga sessions, most of the symposium is focusing on practice management topics that would benefit all advisers, including issues such as social-media selling techniques, managing a team and intergenerational planning.

On Monday, attendees heard from economist Linda Duessel, equity market strategist at Federated Investors Inc., who shared a fairly optimistic outlook for markets even though indicators suggest no periods of strong economic growth coming. She said she has no fears "of another terrible recession," and she predicted that the housing market will continue to improve.

Ms. Duessel also said it's too early to worry about rising interest rates or inflation.

Amy Florian, chief executive of Corgenius Inc., counseled advisers on Tuesday about how to help clients who are going through difficult transitions such as the death of a spouse or divorce.

Raymond James also recognized the success of four of their advisers who made this year's Barron's Top 100 list of female advisers. They were Margaret Starner of Coral Gables, Fla. (No. 46), Judith McGee of Portland, Ore., (No. 69), Lynn Faust of Greer, S.C. (No. 80) and Sheryl Stephens of Flint, Mich. (No. 99).

Raymond James has consistently had about four women on the list each year, Ms. Spinelli said.

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