CFP Board's new head of gender diversity lays out her agenda

Kathleen McQuiggan has a long-term goal of ensuring that 30% of financial planners are women

Jan 30, 2018 @ 5:40 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Kathleen McQuiggan wants to see more females in financial services, not just because she's a woman, but because she believes greater diversity is good for the industry, and ultimately good for financial planning clients.

Ms. McQuiggan, 49, is a financial planner with Artemis Financial Advisors. But her newest challenge is as the special adviser on gender diversity at the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning.

Among her goals, as she works to earn her own CFP certification, is to find ways to make the financial planning profession more inviting to women.

Jeff Benjamin: Why do you think women represent just 23% of all CFP professionals?

Kathleen McQuiggan: There are a few reasons, including that overall, we are seeing an increase in the number of men earning the certification.

Trying to get our arms around the other barriers is part of the reason the CFP Board launched its Women's Initiative (WIN) nearly five years ago with that same goal of trying to increase gender parity in the financial planning profession.

And we did take both a qualitative and quantitative research approach trying to pinpoint these challenges and opportunities.

My colleague Eleanor Blayney, who I am replacing in this role, really spearheaded the report that was done back in 2014, making more room for women in the financial planning profession.

One of the big barriers we find is still just awareness about what this job and career is and isn't, and we find that women are just less aware than men of what a financial professional does.

This awareness gap is still a challenge. We've spent a lot of effort the past couple of years trying to build that up, and I think when you look at where there is an opportunity for us to try and change that number of 23%, we are looking at the different paths that women can [take to] come into this profession.

JB: What are the biggest obstacles preventing more women from joining the financial services industry?

KM: Some of the obstacles, I think, are [that] women are not thinking of financial services as an industry that's welcoming to them. I think we, as an industry, need to continue to have women, as well as ethnic and racial minorities who are in the profession, share their stories and kind of be the face of the profession.

One of the efforts we did is 'I'm a CFP Pro' campaign, which is kind of an educational campaign. It's about continuing to educate folks that they can be successful in this career, and if they see folks that look like them I think that's really a big piece that could help.

JB: Do you think there are forces in place to deliberately prevent more women from joining and succeeding in the financial services industry?

KM: There has been a lot of work, research and conversations generally around financial services not being the most inclusive industry, and I think the unlevel playing field that sometimes occurs in financial services is a deterrent for women.

Women are coming into industries at almost a 50-50 rate with men, but as they start to move up their professional career paths we're seeing a big drop off. Financial services still has some challenges from a pipeline perspective, and I think awareness and education are making a dent in that. But it's this upgrade challenge that, as women get into this career, there's not a clear career path.

Firms are not seeing women advancing into leadership roles as quickly as men. That is still a big challenge for our industry.

Essentially, I think showing women that there's a clear career path for them in this industry is what is needed. And I think firms should be holding themselves to be more accountable and to look at all levels of their organization, and showing that they are creating an inclusive work environment for women to be successful once they choose this profession.

JB: What can the financial services industry do to help recruit more women to the ranks?

KM: It involves transforming and thinking differently about the workplace culture within their own organizations.

I think it's about improving the training and career paths that younger professionals have. We've seen some of the larger firms already realize they need to revamp their training programs.

There needs to be an increasing awareness of what the financial advising role is, and I think firms need to think about having a stated commitment and goals that they'd like to work toward.

JB: Do you have any specific goals regarding what you hope to accomplish in your new role at the CFP Board?

KM: Some of the goals we have are probably building on what we've had in place for the past five years.

We are trying to move the needle on the 23%, and I think that working toward a target of 30% women in the financial planning profession is one of the longer-term goals.

That 30% is important because we've seen some good research about how 30% is more of a critical mass, and that underrepresented groups' voices are heard with more of a critical mass.

I think that will take some time because the CFP certification and process does take some time given the educational requirements. Individuals preparing for the exam, and the work experience is not something that can happen overnight. We do need to consider there are several different levers we're trying to adjust to help advance that number.

I think we're seeing some progress. Most of the efforts to date have been around the awareness of the role.

Eleanor Blayney has created a great legacy and some great partnerships with other organizations. So, I am looking to continue to build out finding additional partners that we can collaborate with, because I think there are a lot of efforts to increase gender diversity in the financial services industry, and particularly in the planning and investments space.

JB: What advice would you give to a woman who might be considering a career in financial services?

KM: Just do it. I've had the good fortune of having a couple different careers in financial services over my tenure in this profession, and it is a great industry. I think women can be incredibly successful and have a lot of impact on their clients' lives. They really are helping people with the things they need the most help with, and that's creating a solid financial road map for their own individual lives.

I think that what we're learning and seeing as more studies are being done is that a career in financial services is not driven by someone's aptitude with math or wanting to be a rock star investor. It's about bringing a wide range of skill sets into a role that really can change people's lives. I think when you talk to successful professionals, both men and women, that really is one of the driving forces that have allowed them to be successful.

I would encourage women to think about it, to do it, and just remember there are lots of different pathways into this profession.

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