No question, there is a need for more women in the financial adviser field, given their distinctive capabilities and the changing client demographics. And change in the industry is definitely underway. Yet many firms still haven't achieved a desirable gender balance, particularly in their senior leadership ranks, and so miss out on the benefits diversity can bring.
At BlackRock's annual RIA Leadership Summit for Women in Advisory, female advisers shared a range of insights and perspectives on the challenges to advancement still confronting women — and how to overcome them. A key takeaway: While the advisory profession still needs to do a lot collectively to support women's career-long success, women also can take some significant steps on their own to sustain their progress, and support that of other women.
Summit attendees acknowledged that women's advancement still faces multiple roadblocks, from insufficient encouragement for girls in math and finance to inconsistent recruitment channels for entry-level positions to inadequate mentorship of junior employees to structural and environmental challenges within firms. But the participants affirmed women's power to overcome these problems, and to advocate for others' success as well.
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Here are three tips for success from female attendees –– along with suggestions on how RIA firms can support them.
Tip 1: Speak up for yourself — and other women, too.
Vocal self-advocacy and proactively seeking new opportunities are keys to positioning yourself for success.
"It was all about being fearless and taking a chance that got me [to the CEO role]," one woman put it, describing how she applied for a stretch assignment at her firm.
Female advisers also need to speak up to ensure their contributions are recognized.
"Women need to take credit for the work and success they bring to their organizations — believe me, if you don't take credit for your accomplishments, someone is sure to take the credit for you, " another attendee affirmed.
Firms can advocate for women advisers by encouraging them to be more vocal and visible — by soliciting more feedback from female employees and featuring more women in marketing materials, for example — and also by affirming their achievements and highlighting their successes and value to the organization.
Tip 2: Get out of your own way.
Avoid the common tendency among women — as noted by one attendee — to self-censor or speak less confidently in the presence of male counterparts.
"I have to guard against lowering my voice, or having it drowned out when I'm interrupted," one attendee noted.
Be self-aware, resist behaviors that undermine recognition for your competence and communicate with strength.
Another attendee admitted, "Negotiating compensation and job responsibilities have always felt like awkward conversations. I'm not sure men get as awkward when communicating their own value and ambitions."
Company management can reinforce these efforts. Helpful initiatives include transparent compensation programs, objective peer review systems and coaching on compensation negotiation.
Tip 3: Approach sponsorship like your male colleagues.
Strong mentorship/sponsorship relationships are key to promoting women's success at all levels, and Summit attendees conceded that many women's networks still pale in comparison with men's. Women need to actively cultivate professional relationships — prioritizing them as they do other important job responsibilities.
"You need to build and nurture your network well in advance of ever needing to ask anything of it," one attendee noted. "I can't say enough about the power of the posse."
Firms can encourage female mentorship by offering networking groups, forums and events to facilitate relationship building and best-practices sharing, particularly for junior-level advisers.
"You can make it easier on the next generation by becoming a visible example of a woman who endured and overcame," another attendee suggested.
Hollie Fagan is managing director and head of the registered investment adviser channel at BlackRock.