In the financial services industry, women represent fewer than one in five positions in the C-suite. This sharply contrasts with the reality that women are more engaged in financial decision-making than ever before, and are increasingly becoming the financial decision makers in their households. As women seek out financial advisers in larger numbers, it will be crucial for financial advisers to more closely reflect the demographics of the population they serve.
Individual female advisers should champion their expertise and capacity to make a difference. Additionally, the financial services industry needs to adapt initiatives and empower women to champion their careers. To improve growth and innovation, all industries should facilitate the consideration, promotion and advocacy of a more diverse workforce through mentorship and sponsorship.
Advocating for your career
While individual female advisers may not always be able to influence hierarchical structures, they shouldn't relegate their careers to companies that won't fuel them. Instead of focusing on immediately available career paths, consider what unique skills you have and how those traits can propel a business.
Determine your career goals and how they fit into the marketplace. Lessons from startups can help you keep pace with change and adapt as needed.
Evaluate the culture and leadership of your employer on an ongoing basis. If your career stagnates after three to four years in a job, consider taking your talents someplace that will appreciate you. Change may be required to receive recognition. Seeking out more diverse firms could bode well for your career given research suggesting that more diverse companies perform better than nondiverse firms.
Women should also be aware of how they talk and think about their work. Humility is important, but don't cede or minimize efforts. When someone compliments your work, it's an opportunity to thank them and ask for more; if the person manages you or could influence your career, ask for a 15-minute meeting to talk about other projects or openings. Take the opportunity to learn. Find an advocate, mentor or sponsor. Ask for the sale. Whatever you do, don't say "It was nothing." That turns a positive to a neutral.
Mentorship and sponsorship programs
Recent efforts to address diversity and provide resources to help women (re)enter the workforce, combined with flexible hours, can make financial planning well-suited for women. Firms can add to this effort by instituting robust peer mentorship programs.
Mixing formal, informal and networking events accommodates a variety of communication styles where mentors can be a sounding board, helping the mentee learn.
Alternatively, sponsorship programs enable employees to seek feedback from leaders they admire and encourage sponsors to recognize employees who demonstrate potential. An effective sponsor will consider the person they're sponsoring in every interaction, especially for important projects relevant to their career, advocate for them in conversations with senior leadership, and bring their voice into key meetings.
Formal women-designated sponsorship programs can help close the gender-gap and steer the financial services industry to better serving women decision makers.
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Whether you are looking to develop your career or sponsor or mentor a colleague, building female communities benefits individual advisers and the financial services industry. Having empowered women at advisory firms to better reflect the population they serve is an important step.
By extension, actively incorporating diversity into the businesses that drive our global economy —through leadership, sponsorship or mentorship — can make a real and lasting difference.
Natalie Wolfsen is chief solutions officer at AssetMark Inc.
Register today for our Future of Financial Advice event on Nov. 20.