In 2011, 20 million women over the age of 25 held bachelor's degrees, compared with only 19 million men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The disparity was even more pronounced with those holding master's degrees: 8.8 million women versus 7.1 million men.
Likewise, women dominate in some industries. For example, in the wealthiest states, 64% of real estate agents are women. So why is it that they represent only 23% of those holding the certified financial planner designation and only about 31% of those in the financial advice business?
The financial advice industry trails even so-called male fields such as math and statistics, chemical engineering, information systems and civil engineering, judging by the percentage of bachelor's degrees women have earned in those disciplines.
A recent report by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. found that women lack awareness of the financial planning profession and the CFP certification process. If women — especially young women — are unaware of the industry, of what a financial planner does or of the planner's value to clients, they will not even consider financial planning as a career option.
The report said that even when women are aware of the profession, they harbor misconceptions about it. For example, they believe it primarily concerns investments, sales and production, and that it requires significant math skills. They do not realize that understanding family dynamics and building relationships are also vital requirements.
The report pointed out that women are recruited and hired less frequently than men, paid less than men and given less professional support than men. But it also noted that once women receive their CFP certification, they leave the industry at a very low rate.
The CFP Board has committed to a number of initiatives to attract more women to financial planning, including making female leaders in the profession more visible to broad audiences of women and girls, and educating guidance counselors in high schools and colleges on financial planning as a career.
It also has called on financial firms to adopt transparent compensation structures and standardized job descriptions to eliminate gender discrepancies.
If implemented, these and other initiatives will help.
But more must be done to raise the awareness among women that financial planning is a satisfying and financially rewarding profession. If firms are truly interested in attracting more women, they will get behind these efforts and invest in the advertising and public relations campaigns.