Suddenly, women have become the topic of the moment for the financial industry, and for all the wrong reasons. It’s as if the financial advisory world woke up one morning, smacked itself on the forehead, and said, “Uh, oh, my clients’ wives will likely inherit all my clients’ money and I’ve never even spoken to them!” Yes, it’s true. Studies show that 75% of widows change financial advisors within the first year of their husbands’ demise. Now, advisors are struggling to learn how to communicate with women, as if we were some exotic species.
Of course, if you take a close look at the world of financial services, you’ll find it’s no wonder why we treat women like we’re so unusual. For our male colleagues, powerful women are the exception, rather than the rule. Our ranks among financial managers are relatively miniscule. For example, in 2013, among the financial and insurance firms in the Fortune 500, only 17.6% of executive officers were women, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit global organization that researches and advocates for women in business. Consider the disproportion: Women comprise 52% of the world’s population, and approximately 60% of U.S. college graduates. And we make up 40% of the financial workforce overall.
A woman executive in financial services is accustomed to being the only female in the room, or perhaps one of two. She is likely to seek out young women she can mentor and sponsor – though she’s also savvy enough to know that she needs to encourage the guys as well, so she doesn’t appear “biased.” And she is uncomfortably aware that many of the women she takes under her wing may not stay with the firm, nor even the industry, because they become weary of being treated like they don’t fit the profile. Many high performing women leave large corporations to start their own firms, where they can call the shots.
How can the women leaders of the financial industry change this dynamic? We owe both ourselves and the next generation a more equitable and comfortable corporate environment.
I believe that by bringing industry women together for conversations about best practices, in an informal and congenial environment, we can find the camaraderie we may be missing in our individual offices. Such gatherings may help us recruit and retain talented and ambitious women who would otherwise be discouraged by the rarity of women at the top. And perhaps, by fostering our knowledge and helping one another along, we’ll find that more of us reach executive positions.
A financial services industry that reflects the diversity of the global economy will be better prepared to engage with the clients of the future. As this new generation takes its place in our managerial and executive ranks, we must be prepared to attract the best talent, male and female. I hope to do my part by encouraging talented female leaders to support one another and bring along emerging high performers—and in the process, enhance the value of all our businesses.
This blog is courtesy of Frieda Lewis of Broadridge, an FSI Premier Sponsor.