Solving the riddle of why women make up such a small percentage of the financial planning profession begins with early and repetitive efforts to remind both women and men about the benefits of a more diverse workplace.
While women comprise 51% of the overall U.S. population, they make up less than 16% of financial advisers, and even fewer women hold executive positions, according to the InvestmentNews research report "Advancing an Industry: Action steps to accelerate the advancement of women in the financial advice industry."
The research, which involved a series of female think-tank gatherings, goes beyond just recognizing the problem to proposing potential solutions, which run the gamut of education starting in grade school, targeted internship programs, flexible work hours, specific training and on-going development.
"We know there is a shortage of women in financial services in general, and wealth management particularly, but what has not yet been established is a way to fix it," said April Rudin, president and chief executive of The Rudin Group, a financial services marketing firm.
The report, released Monday, cites a global study by The Peterson Institute for International Economics showing that companies with women in leadership positions can improve overall financial performance and success.
Women more often embrace collaborative leadership styles; female clients might better identify with a female adviser; women are more prone toward problem-solving; empathy and active listening; and a mix of men and women in leadership produces more diverse viewpoints.
Against that backdrop, which has been a generally accepted reality for years, only 23% of certified financial planners are women, and of the 311,000 financial advisers in the U.S., only 15.7% are women.
Carolyn McClanahan, founder and director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners, said part of the problem is an outdated perception of the industry as still being an "old boys' club" that is focused on sales and investment performance.
"Only in recent years has the change been apparent, but the type of work being done now is different than it was in the past," she said. "The industry is moving away from sales to financial problem-solving, and women are great at that."
Ms. Rudin said the industry needs an "awareness campaign" to get the word out that the modern financial planning industry is in many respects ideal for women.
"Women are not banging down the doors to get into financial services, and if you ask the average person what a wealth manager is, they will have no idea," she said. "But the truth is what women are very good at is financial planning. It is a good fit."