When it comes to increasing the ranks of women in the financial planning industry beyond the current level of 15% of all advisers, mentoring has often been viewed as a logical step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, as some organizations are learning, mentoring programs don't run themselves. Without proper structure and guidance, even the best efforts to promote mentoring can fall short of expectations.
The most celebrated example of such a program in financial services is the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards' Women's Initiative. Although the CFP Board says the program has attracted 750 mentors and 1,600 mentees in the past six years, some women say they've been disappointed in it.
"I'm signed up for it, and listed as a mentor, but I've never felt like the program has done what I thought it was going to do," said Amy Irvine, founder of Rooted Planning Group.
Ms. Irvine believes the mentor and mentee have responsibility for developing a relationship, but she thinks the CFP Board could do more to help facilitate and nurture the connections with a more structured program.
A common criticism is that the program lacks sufficient guidance and training on how to be a mentor, and what is expected of mentees.
Helen Ngo, founder of the advisory firm Capital Benchmark Partners, is also frustrated with the program.
"I signed up to be a mentor three years ago and never heard anything back," she said. "Some mentorship programs aren't working because there's no training on what the mentors should be doing. A lot of them are just like matchmaking sites."
Ms. Irvine and Ms. Ngo are both mentoring women advisers, but those relationships developed through other industry connections and not with the help of the CFP Board.
One sticking point that has hampered the mentoring program has been the CFP Board's focus on women helping other women pass the CFP exam, which the CFP Board acknowledges continues to be the primary objective of the program.
But many of the women signing up to mentor or be mentored are looking for a broader mentoring relationship.
Heather Townsend, founder of Townsend Financial, has been mentored by Ms. Irvine since August. She said her business has since "exploded. I had a wait list for a while, and I'm now getting ready to raise my fees."
However, Ms. Townsend said her initial efforts to find a mentor through CFP Board program were met with a chilly response.
"She (not Ms. Irvine) declined to mentor me, saying it was more about getting your CFP," Ms. Townsend said.
The CFP Board, while recognizing the appetite for broader mentoring experiences, defends its focus on helping planners get through the CFP exam process, which can be grueling and time-consuming.
"It started with a focus on women, but it's really about certification and managing the time to balance studying and all the other life things that get in the way," said CFP Board's director of marketing Jason Gudenius. "It is still really focused on CFP certification, and you really will get out of it what you put in."
Mr. Gudenius said the mentoring program continues to evolve even though it is still primarily focused on helping advisers get their CFP certification.
"Anecdotally, I can tell you we've had a number of folks who have come through the program and are now saying they'd like to give back and be a mentor," he said.
Mr. Gudenius said efforts are still being made to "make the program better."
"We're trying to work on a resource library for mentors and mentees," he said. "And in October we built a tool kit for things like approaching and working with a mentor, and expectation setting."
Haley Tolitsky, a financial planner at Cooke Capital, said her experience as a mentee going through the CFP exam process had been rewarding.
"It is so beneficial to have someone outside of your office to ask questions and get advice from," she said. "It took me a few tries before finding a mentor that is a great fit, so don't get discouraged on the first attempt if the match does not work out how you wish."