As the years go by and the data pile up, waiting for the financial advice industry to embrace gender equality wholeheartedly across all levels feels like waiting for Godot.
We cheer at the slightest of gains that women make in the workforce and at the same time wonder why we're still at a place where such cheering is necessary. It should be de rigueur.
So it was when we perused senior research analyst Matt Sirinides' report on the progress women have made in the business based on the 2015 InvestmentNews Adviser Compensation & Staffing Study.
Today, women make up about half of the total employees at a typical advisory firm. From 2013 to 2015, women gained in entry- and intermediate-level positions across the industry.
Those are the positions that typically lead to more-senior professional roles. The 2015 study found 49% of entry-level advisers were female, up from 44% two years ago.
In addition, women are holding one of two other entry-level paths that can lead to client-facing professional roles, the client service administrator. That position has an 84%/16% female/male split.
Unfortunately, that's about it.
The roles of research analyst and portfolio manager — two other positions that often lead to more-senior advisory roles — have a nearly identical split to that of the client service administrator, at 82%/18%. But here it's male/female.
InvestmentNews Research's latest advisory firm benchmarking data show that women hold just 19% of partner-level positions. For employee advisers — non-owner advisers holding the lead, service or support titles — just 36% are women.
The data indicate that while women and men were almost equally likely to have been promoted in the past year in the support adviser role, in the service adviser role, men were nearly twice as likely to have been promoted over the same period, even though women in those roles typically had more experience than their male counterparts.
A TROUBLE SPOT
Business development at advisory firms continues to be a trouble spot, with the business development officer or business development specialist role overwhelmingly male — 96% for partners and 72% for employees.
We can — and we will — shake our finger and say industry executives (because we all know that real change begins at the top) need to — must — do a better job at championing women, making sure they are filling roles that will lead to greater responsibility and leadership positions, and that they are fairly and equally compensated.
Some of the programs for women that have been established at leading firms in the financial services industry are great steps and sorely needed. More firms should establish them.
That said, it's not all on the companies.
ISSUE OF CONFIDENCE
In a speech last month at the Raymond James Women's Symposium (kudos to Raymond James for holding that symposium), Katty Kay, lead anchor of BBC World News America and co-author of “The Confidence Code,” said one part of the problem is that women hold themselves back.
She pointed to research from Hewlett-Packard that found women will apply for promotions when they have 100% of the skills needed while men will apply with only 60% of the skills. And she cited research from Columbia University that found men overestimate their abilities by 30% while women underestimate theirs.
All this while other studies show that companies with more women in senior roles — including on boards of directors — outperform those with fewer.
As the title of Ms. Kay's book suggests, it's about confidence. Not so much swagger and bravado. Here's what she told the crowd at Raymond James:
“All you need to do is bring the perception of your ability in line with your ability, and that will allow you to take risks and stop the ruminating and go as far as your talents allow you to go.”