Have you ever had something unexpected turn into, well…something really unexpected? This past November, I received an e-mail for an invitation to join an introductory call to Raymond James' Registered Service Associate Team Development Program. I really didn't know what it was. I figured it was something my financial adviser signed me up for; I clicked "accept" anyway.
Come to find out, I was nominated to be part of a new initiative to help sales assistants navigate a career path; one that encourages advancement based on a proven track record of excellence and team commitment. Only 10 people were chosen, and all of them are women.
When it came time for the call about the program, I don't think I fully grasped the scope of the initiative. I started in this business almost 20 years ago, when women were sales assistants, and men were financial advisers. There was a clear separation with few options for advancement.
At some point in those early years, I was bitten by the desire to do more, and so I talked to my branch manager (at another firm) about becoming an adviser. Although I was very young with little experience in the industry, he humored me and chuckled to himself. At the time, to get into any kind of adviser or trainee role, you had to take a test. The test determined if you had what it took to play in the big leagues. It weeded out the boys from the men. If you didn't pass the test, you couldn't become an adviser. I didn't pass the test and continued working as a sales assistant.
With that experience in the back of my mind all these years, I still have not given up my aspiration to do more. In the years that followed, I became registered, including my insurance license and wealth management specialist designation, and I have strived to be the very best at what I do. I take every opportunity to learn more about the business, not just operationally, but on the advising side as well. I work on a great team, where my adviser involves me and mentors me, but I'm still just a sales assistant. So in November, I was curious as to what exactly this unexpected opportunity would mean for me.
I had no expectations beginning the program. I've been through other programs for sales assistants where they talk to you about "great customer service" …um, yeah ... been there, done that. I've been part of other conferences where you learn "new technology" …show me something I don't know and haven't already figured out myself. Needless to say, I was skeptical. What can they really do for me that I don't already know or haven't seen somewhere before?
Here we are, four months into the program, and I feel empowered. The first thing the program did for me was validate me as a professional woman. I felt valued for not only what I already contribute to the team, but also what I am capable of contributing going forward. I was given the opportunity to have private coaching sessions to discuss my expectations, desires and fears in my career, as well as my personal life. These conversations have helped me to pinpoint what I want and where I really want to be. By verbalizing these desires, it has made my vision clear and obtainable.
I've been paired with a mentor, a top female financial adviser who is an active participant in the Raymond James Network for Women Advisers. I've been given tools to understand who I am and how to work better with my team, including individual and team personality assessments. Best of all, I've been given the opportunity to do more. I no longer feel the separation I once did; the idea that men are financial advisers and women are sales assistants. Instead, I am surrounded by a group of successful men and women who support me. These professionals, including top management, are providing me with the tools necessary to pursue an unexpected but welcome endeavor.
Stacy J. Caudill is a senior investment management specialist, Clifford J Mulder, Retirement & Investment Planning of Raymond James & Associates, Inc., member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC