By Tracy King
Let us all collectively take a moment of silence to reflect on the passing of a generation of women whose worth was measured by the success of their marriage and the success of their children, a generation of women who never put gas in their cars or balanced a checkbook.
These women were to be seen and not heard outside the home. If they worked outside the home at all, they were employed largely in the service industry as secretaries, stewardesses and Avon ladies. Today, 104 women serve in the U.S. Congress, 24 women serve as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and women are a driving force in small business growth.
A torch is passing from a generation of women who couldn’t talk about money to a generation of women set to control two‐thirds of the U.S. economy by 2030. Women now account for a whopping 57 percent of the nation’s labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to the 2011 Women of Wealth survey, “Why Does the Financial Services Industry Still Not Hear Them?” two-thirds of women manage their families’ budgets and collectively control $20 trillion of consumer spending. Additionally by 2030, women will gain control of an estimated $25 trillion through what is being called a “double dip” inheritance – once from their parents and again from their spouses. What is puzzling is why women still report feeling disrespected and invisible when there’s a $25 trillion opportunity knocking at your front door?
Most major players in the financial services space have read the writing on the wall, established marketing programs and slightly adjusted their optics at women in an attempt to solve the “lady issue.” There is lip service for having a commitment to diverse groups, including women.
However, but many companies still miss the mark. The use of stock photos that pander to poised, professional female stereotypes and dedicated website pages to all things “feminine and finance” isn’t moving the needle much. Where are the photos of a female executive walking into the office holding a sippy cup and making sure there aren’t Cheerios stuck to her blouse?
Like most big issues involving human behavior, change starts small, incrementally and with people who have a deep passion to change the status quo. Recruiting to the industry, creating systems and processes that support the needs of women (both advisors and clients), and addressing the gaps in financial education and literacy for women will be paramount to achieving the goal of gender parity in all levels of the financial service industry.
Here are what three women have to say about creating a new experience for women in the financial services sector.
Pam Blalock, senior vice president of distribution, National Life Group: I see two key areas we need to focus on – recruiting and serving. First, how do we recruit and retain more women as trusted advisors? It starts with diversity as an integral part of an organization’s culture.
Women need to see attributes within the business that meet their professional and social needs.
A cultural environment that embraces and promotes mutual respect, training, teamwork, inclusion, flexibility, transparent communications and gives back to local communities are key attributes in industries where women have flourished.
These changes need to start with men who currently dominate field leadership positions in this industry. Understanding how to embrace the necessary changes will allow current field leadership to capitalize on the massive opportunities they’re missing out on. This may require them to get out of their own comfort zone and build new skills.
An additional approach is to look at different sources for recruiting women to this industry. Programs that allow women to re‐enter the workforce or start part‐time are incredibly viable options. Women with experience in the fields of education, social work, real estate or medical sales positions bring a valuable skill set to the industry that resonates with clients because they are service oriented.
Onboarding women differently, with training that has a different trajectory than a traditional approach may take longer in the short term but will produce exponential results long term. Providing a local advisory board and networking opportunities are all best practices that have had positive results and improved retention. Mentoring potential leaders and offering a career path will help change the leadership representation in the industry.
The second area of focus is to better serve the needs of female clients. The GAMA Foundation reports that 70 percent of women prefer to work with women advisors. If we become more deliberate, purposeful and systematic in our approach to recruiting more women into the industry, we will have better results with female clients.
While some people believe gender diversity issues are irrelevant, I believe that in an industry that has been slow to change, we have not pivoted quickly enough to embrace the obvious opportunities. There has been some success in small pockets of the industry but we are at the tipping point. It requires us to believe in the opportunity that is presenting itself and make the changes necessary to recruit, train, communicate and build a diverse culture.
Natalie Stillman, vice president, financial planning, Hall Private Wealth Advisors: Client engagement in financial services has shifted drastically in the past 40-plus years – particularly for women. It used to be people, usually a husband and wife, went into a professional office and the men did most of the talking – usually to each other. With 70 percent of women leaving their advisors within a year of their husband’s death, it is critical to recognize every person who comes in to our office and the value they bring.
It has been our observation that breaking down silos between clients’ personal, professional and financial lives allows for greater potential and growth in all three areas. It starts with creating a comfortable and safe setting where women are able to connect with other women who have similar interests and concerns. The first component of a successful practice working with women is creating an environment that is open, accepting and safe. It has to be a place where a woman won’t be judged. Once this happens, the door to education opens.
Our practice brings women together in homes, conference rooms, community meeting places and restaurants on a monthly basis. Professionals from outside the world of finance, as well as from within our firm, are guest speakers on a host of topics. We frequently will poll the audience at the first meeting to get a feel for their biggest struggles. These usually revolve around relationships, children, money and aging parents. Helping clients identify and understand their biggest issues is incredibly helpful. They leave knowing they aren’t alone in their struggles. Meanwhile, an advisor can gain insight, clarity and alignment into this market.
Laura Manzer, director of marketing, First Financial Security and LiSA Initiative: Women from all backgrounds, life experiences, ethnicities and education levels are struggling to achieve financial wellness. This is partly attributed to the hand so many women are dealt: Women on average live five years longer than men, are statistically more likely to be single parents and on average spend fewer years in the workforce. In addition, many women fall into the category of the “sandwich generation,” financially supporting three and sometimes four generations at a time. But these statistics only tell part of the story.
Another piece of the story is the financial gender gap. Not only are women increasingly responsible for their finances and the financial support of multiple generations, many may be less equipped than men with regard to basic money management and investing skills.
While we may not be able to flip a switch, wave our wands, or optimistically “will” women into better circumstances, we can and must do our part to help women and their families have access to a solid financial education. Closing the financial gender gap through education and advocacy will help women gain control of their finances and start preparing for the future. Financial education can have an immediate generational impact, breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring the financial conditions of one generation aren’t necessarily passed down to the next.
In the field of financial literacy, we know that acquiring knowledge or facts alone won’t change behavior. Shifting behavior involves the psychology of money. It requires digging deep into memories and experiences and understanding how one interacts with money or emotionally responds to it. Once those experiences and emotions are confronted and “righted,” students can put to use the knowledge they have gained to make better decisions and move ahead. Our financial literacy program, LiSA Initiative, embraces financial literacy as a means of bridging the gender gap in financial education and levels of literacy.
The financial services industry must become more educated and attuned to the unique needs and circumstances of women from all experiences and backgrounds. In order to ensure that the gender gap in education and financial wellness is closed for all, and not just for some, we must take the time necessary to listen, hear and respond appropriately to every woman we encounter, no matter her background, no matter her education, no matter her upbringing. Financial education is for all.
Tracy King is a marketing manager at National Life Group. Tracy may be contacted at [email protected].
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