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Women's History Month: Celebrating the women of financial planning

More needs to be done to ensure the industry and profession are open and welcoming to female professionals

Mar 22, 2018 @ 11:52 am

By Evelyn M. Zohlen, Ann Reilly Dowd, Molly Balunek, Kimberly Bridges and Lauren M. Schadle

March marks the 31st year of National Women's History Month, which was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1987 as a time each year when the nation can collectively acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of American women. Over the past 31 years — and in the time leading up to this designation — women have played a critical role in the advancement of our country, and we are grateful for the opportunities we have each had to positively impact the financial services industry and, more specifically, the trajectory of the financial planning profession.

Financial planning is a young profession that has seen growth in recognition and respect in recent decades, and women are leading the way. In fact, Cerulli reported in September that approximately one-third (31.3%) of women in financial services classify themselves as financial planners, compared with only 21% of men. And with Fidelity reporting that 90% of women want to learn more about financial planning to better manage their individual finances, now is the time for the profession to take the next step forward with women leading the way.

But even with this progress, more needs to be done to ensure the industry and profession are open and welcoming to female professionals. While women in the industry have shown a greater propensity than their male counterparts to pursue financial planning as their career (according to Cerulli), the number of women becoming certified financial planner professionals has remained flat at about 23% of the total CFP population for the better part of a decade.

In recent years, CFP Board has embarked on several programs to spark growth in the number of female CFP® professionals, including the Women's Initiative. And it's not alone in this work. Consider the Women to Watch recognition program that InvestmentNews has hosted for a few years now. Each of the women recognized in the program in 2017, who were celebrated last Tuesday in New York City, has had a major impact on the trajectory of this profession and will into the foreseeable future.

As leaders in the Financial Planning Association at a national level, there is even more we can do as an organization to support these professionals. The FPA Knowledge Circle on Women in Finance is bringing together different voices to engage in meaningful discussion on how we can affect change. And the association is developing impactful female leaders at the local level within its network of 86 chapters to help them grow their profiles nationally. In fact, the practitioner authors of this commentary now serve on the FPA board of directors, but we all served in key leadership roles within our chapters and/or companies in California, Ohio, Arizona and Massachusetts. We are where we are today because of the association providing an avenue for each of us to take leadership roles where we are able to elevate our voices to affect change.

So what can we do to foster a path forward for more women to enter the greater financial services industry and, specifically, the financial planning profession? This should be the endeavor of all organizations that want to see this profession flourish in the future. Here are just a few ways we can do this together:

• We can leverage the talents of female financial planners by creating awareness of personal finance in American schools that will also put a female face on a profession that is believed to be dominated by men. If more young women can see this is a profession where women can thrive, perhaps more will pursue it as their future vocation.

• We can encourage more women to take on leadership roles in our associations, standards-setting bodies, and other agencies that have influence over the profession.

• We can embrace those in the academic community who are opening the profession's doors to today's college students and provide them the support they need to encourage women to pursue financial planning degrees and, when possible, CFP certification.

This is an endeavor worthy of our collective time and attention. Each of us has traveled very different paths in our careers and we have now converged as leaders in one of the prominent associations for this profession. We look forward to inspiring other women in this fantastic profession and appreciate the opportunity to work with others who want to celebrate the women of the financial planning profession. Our hope is this celebration isn't just reserved for Women's History Month, but is something we can celebrate no matter the month.

To all of the women in financial planning, thank you for making this your profession. We, and all members of FPA, acknowledge and celebrate all of you!

(More: How to improve gender diversity in financial advice)

The authors of this commentary are all members of the Financial Planning Association Board of Directors, including 2018 FPA President-Elect Evelyn M. Zohlen, president of Inspired Financial in Huntington Beach, Calif.; Molly Balunek, president of Laurel Tree Advisors in Cleveland, Ohio; Ann Reilly Dowd, vice president of Fidelity Investments in Boston; Kimberly Bridges, vice president of The Commerce Trust Co. in Kansas City, Mo.; and Lauren M. Schadle, executive director and CEO of the Financial Planning Association.

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