Leaders in the financial services industry and state government were virtually all men when I began my career over four decades ago. As I reflect on my career, I recognize several lessons I had to learn to smash through certain barriers.
Some of those barriers were tough to break through, but I was tougher.
One of the lessons learned is that men tend to provide male colleagues with immediate credibility. A presumption exists that another man has the experience and knowledge to support his position. There were many occasions when I was the only woman in the room, which as a young professional was quite intimidating. As daunting as those situations could be, I always remained positive and hardened myself against being bypassed.
Credibility, for me and other women, had to be earned.
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Fortunately, I was blessed with the support of male mentors and career sponsors who taught me how to thrive in male-dominated workplaces. Chief among their lessons was that credibility is earned by being the best-prepared person in the room. During my tenure as the first female insurance commissioner for the State of Oklahoma, a statewide elected office, in addition to my duties as a regulator, I also served on 10 different boards and commissions with responsibilities ranging from health insurance, pension systems, and workers' compensation.
These responsibilities required a lot of homework to remain up-to-date on all of the issues, initiatives and policy matters under my purview. In fact, I taught myself to speed-read to be able to absorb information rapidly in preparation for meetings. The time and dedication required to rise to these demands was made easier thanks to my passion for the work I was doing and the confidence I gained by being prepared.
Like many women, I am mission-oriented, and I throw myself into all my passions — this industry, the consumers we serve, protecting older Americans and helping other women achieve their dreams. As the mother of three daughters and the grandmother of two granddaughters, I want to see that they — and all women — have the opportunities we deserve.
Some of my proudest accomplishments are watching those I have mentored succeed and advance to the highest levels of leadership; in fact, several of the individuals I have mentored over the past 20 years have become CEOs for financial and insurance associations.
I am also proud of the many family-friendly programs implemented under my watch while at various associations, designed to ease the demands on women who are committed to both their families and careers. It is my belief that reasonable accommodations for new parents, flexible schedules and remote work beget loyalty from both male and female employees. I, and many others, have worked hard to make those policies available.
During my time as CEO of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, we started an award-winning Infants in the Workplace Program. Designed to reduce the sacrifices made by new parents, the Infants in the Workplace Program has made it possible for 179 babies to spend several months with their parents upon their return to the office. It was an honor to speak at the 20th anniversary celebration of this program and it was a treat to celebrate with some of those babies, who are now teenagers and young adults. While at this event, many of the parents, who are still loyal employees, spoke on the positive impact this program had on both their families and their careers.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in 2006: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
This quotation has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. In addition to mentoring and supporting women in the workplace, I wrote "Women and Wealth: Inspiring Stories from Real Women on the Path to Financial Success" in 2016. First and foremost, the purpose of the book is to show women that they can obtain financial security and reach their goals, both financially and professionally, despite the challenges and headwinds they may face. The growing understanding of how women think, make decisions and take action will help us to bring strategies to the table to support us on our journey to financial security.
As financial advisers, we all want to see increased diversity in the C-suite, the board room and the front lines. Research shows that women wealth managers hold a competitive edge over their male colleagues when working with female clients. With women set to inherit $25 trillion by 2035, more than two-thirds of the personal wealth in the United States, our industry needs to represent the diverse constituency we serve.
I am proud of how far we have come during the span of my career. By being prepared, I was able to bring my voice to the table and credibility to my work. By remaining positive, people took me seriously. Those who helped me along the way enabled me to arrive where I am today. To the women financial professionals reading this, remember: It may be tough, but we're tougher.
Copies of "Women and Wealth: Inspiring Stories from Real Women on the Path to Financial Success" are available for free by visiting InvestmentNews.com/weatherford.
Cathy Weatherford is president and CEO of the Insured Retirement Institute.