Before starting a job as a financial planning associate last month, Alesstrah Love, 27, worked as a scientist for a pharmaceutical company. She ran tests on new drugs in a laboratory, but found that the work didn't fit her personality.
"I'm more of a people person," Ms. Love said. "I don't want to go through life and not have an impact on someone."
Ms. Love, who graduated college with a biology degree, was interested in getting into the advisory space. When she found Plancorp, a registered investment advisory firm headquartered in St. Louis, she was particularly drawn to the company for its emphasis on recruiting female advisers in a male-dominated field.
"We don't find enough women in finance-type degree programs, so it's helpful to find women with other backgrounds," said Amy Jones, chief talent officer at Plancorp. Ms. Jones hired three women this year, with degrees in biology, psychology and physics/engineering.
Only 16% of finance advisers are women, according to a 2017 report from Cerulli Associates.
"Women may feel less comfortable going into a field that is dominated by men," Ms. Jones said.
Often likened to a boy's club, the finance industry has drawn criticism for the lack of female representation among its ranks, especially among the top tier of executives. While financial services firms might say they're working on the issue, Ms. Jones doesn't think they'll find more female advisers unless they expand their pool of candidates.
"When it comes down to it, working in the role of an adviser, you need to like math, but you also have to want to help people," Ms. Jones said. "If you look a little broader ... there are more fields to consider for adviser positions."
The gender imbalance begins in college. While the financial field attracts men early in their undergraduate degrees, not nearly the same number of women pursue the career, often due to misconceptions on the industry.
"I took a basic finance course just to learn. I did really well and my teacher was like, 'Well, why aren't you considering finance?' I said that I don't want to sell things," said Sara Gelsheimer, 32, a wealth manager at Plancorp who graduated with a degree in social work. "That's what I associated finance with. I was in social work because I wanted to help people."
By the time she graduated, however, Ms. Gelsheimer had acquired a minor in financial planning and found the two fields had more similarities than she initially thought.
"You're meeting with clients and determining goals and figuring out strategies to meet those goals," Ms. Gelsheimer said.
Expanding the pool to recruit women outside of financial backgrounds can mean those hires do not come into the workplace with the same financial literacy or required certifications as someone who graduated from a financial degree program. Ms. Love, for example, plans to sit for her certified financial planner exam next November.
However, Ms. Jones said it's more or less an even playing field, because any recent college graduates needs to fulfill the experience requirement to become a CFP, and often needs to wait before sitting for their exams.
"Over the long run, you're not going to see that there is a significant difference in success," Ms. Jones said.
And that success extends to the firm's female clients.
Ms. Gelsheimer started an educational group called InspireHer to focus on women who may not feel comfortable voicing questions when they come into sessions with their spouses.
"We want women to feel comfortable to be in the driver's seat for their financial future," Ms. Jones said.