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Peggy Ruhlin on steps advice firms can take to improve the female famine

CEO and 2017 Alexandra Armstrong Award winner says it doesn't have to be difficult to make a difference

Nov 17, 2018 @ 6:00 am

By Peggy Ruhlin

When I received my Certified Financial Planner designation in 1986, I was told that only 25% of all CFP® certificants were women. Today, more than 30 years later, women represent just 23% of the CFP® population. How can that be possible?

This paucity of female financial planners has bothered me for a long time, so I finally enlisted the other women at my firm to do something about it. At Budros Ruhlin & Roe, 40% of our client-facing advisers are women, and nearly half of our clients work with female advisers. But I am the only woman on our board of directors, and I am the only female of our eight shareholders.

Six years ago, BRR established a strategic planning goal to enhance our reputation as a woman-friendly wealth management firm among clients, peer firms and members of our community. In an effort to achieve this goal, we launched an initiative called "BRR4Women" with the following objectives:

1. To promote our female advisers in our community

2. To enhance the professional and leadership skills of our women employees

3. To actively seek female candidates for professional staff positions

4. To engage current and potential women clients of our firm

We've encouraged our female advisers to become active in community and professional organizations, to seek speaking engagements (particularly in front of female audiences) and to find "bonding opportunities" with other women advisers like CPAs and attorneys. Andrea Ellis, one of our senior wealth managers, is president of her suburban Rotary Club. Amy Kelly has become a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and is now in demand as a speaker and by family law attorneys seeking help with their cases. Wealth manager Samantha Anderson won the NAPFA New Professional Award two years ago. I believe the support of our firm through the BRR4Women initiative has given all our female employees the enthusiasm to seek these opportunities.

(More: Meet the 2018 Women to Watch)

Several years ago, we formed the Women's Study Group here at BRR. We meet for lunch once a quarter and discuss topics such as confidence, executive presence and how to learn from failure, all from a female perspective. Everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences in this safe environment. My goal in starting this was to help our female employees grow confident in their skills and abilities so they could stop being afraid to speak up at meetings or to take on leadership roles in our firm. The success of this group has been astounding to me.

Although we truly want to recruit women to jobs at our firm, doing so is difficult when not many women are knowledgeable about or interested in a career in wealth management. We need to get the word out to young women, particularly those in college, about what a wonderful career this is. We've found that college students think our profession is about math, selling products or analyzing securities.

So, we speak at job fairs and to student groups about what a financial planner really has to know. Yes, a financial planner needs to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. But it's not all about math, it's all about helping and educating people, with the rewarding result of making people happy. Women take a whole new look at our work once they understand that.

(More: 2017 Alexandra Armstrong Winner: Peggy Ruhlin)

We also founded our Women in Wealth Management Scholarship, now in its fourth year. The winner receives a monetary award and a paid summer internship at BRR. We've also found some exceptional interns among the runners-up. The first scholarship winner, Michaela Hershberger, has graduated and is now employed here as a wealth management administrator. If we can't find female job candidates, we can create female job candidates!

The most fun part of BRR4Women is hosting clients, prospective clients and other advisers at special women-only events. We've held a cooking class, a wine and cheese reception at an art gallery and a spa brunch with complimentary spa services. Later this year, we're having a "self-defense brunch." After we learn from a krav maga instructor, we'll have mimosas and Bloody Marys. These events have deepened our relationships with our clients and our clients' other advisers, and we all feel like we're members of a special sorority.

It will take a while to move the needle to where half of all certified financial planners are women, but we've started to make a dent. Our BRR4Women initiatives are not original or unique; they can be replicated at your own firms. I hope you do so.

Peggy Ruhlin is chief executive of Budros Ruhlin & Roe. She was the recipient of the Alexandra Armstrong Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017.

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