Our country is approaching an enormous wealth transfer unprecedented in size and scale. By 2030, American women are expected to inherit and control much of the $30 trillion in financial assets baby boomers possess – a total that approaches the annual GDP of the United States.
When it comes to receiving support in managing those assets, 70% of women seeking a financial advisor would prefer to work with a woman. At the same time, women are also advancing in education, now representing more than 50% of the college-educated workforce.
Looking at these consumer needs, as well as the growing talent pool, it is clear that attracting women to a financial services career is more than a diversity and inclusion strategy – it is a growth strategy. We must change the fact that women currently represent just 15% to 20% of all advisors.
Now is the time for our industry to take tangible steps to redefine the advisor experience for women by creating environments with the flexibility, inclusive culture and advancement opportunities that make it possible for women to join, stay and grow in the profession. Achieving these results requires sustained focus and intentionality.
Identify The Roadblocks And Knock Them Down
During a job interview I had several years before I joined Northwestern Mutual, I was stunned when I was asked how I thought I could do the job when I had a small child to take care of. This interviewer was asking the wrong question. What everyone should ask is what we can do differently to support women and set them up for success. I believe this begins with an honest evaluation of the women’s challenges and opportunities that can impact their careers – whether it’s greater flexibility and support for families, enhanced growth and development opportunities, or more avenues to connect with other women for mentorship in the profession.
We heard from our women advisors that a primary challenge to women who want to join and stay in this industry is balancing taking time off to have a family with building an impactful career. It’s challenging to both prepare to leave a practice, as well as to get the right resources in place when it is time to return. It’s also a financial challenge to cover the business expenses that continue to accrue while you are away. Providing financial benefits for advisors who take time off to start or grow their families, as well as parental coaching services, can help to ease these challenges. Women can have tremendous impact on their clients and have time to build the lives and families they want outside of this career – with the right support.
Beyond outdated policies, women are still underrepresented in many ways. That means we have to intentionally work to offer more community and connection opportunities and make sure women’s voices are heard. We’ve created study groups that connect women in pivotal stages of their careers to support each other and develop confidence, conviction and community. We recently launched a Women’s Field Association designed by the women in our organization, which serves as a space to identify and address shared challenges and foster a community for growth, development and relationship building. This group not only serves as a community for our women advisors; it also gives them a seat at the table to help identify and prioritize the issues we need to solve together.
Women should have a voice in the issues that impact them. I would encourage others in the industry to consider similar associations to attract women to the profession, drive connection points and elevate their collective voices.
Diversity And Inclusion To Drive Engagement
Because our industry is male dominated, it’s essential for financial services companies to intentionally build collaborative, inclusive workplaces that acknowledge the unique experiences of women and ensure they feel valued, respected and encouraged to stay. After all, a Gallup study found that employees who are in an inclusive environment are more engaged, demonstrate higher advocacy for their organizations and have a greater intent to stay.
Immersive training and coaching programs are also critical to creating a culture that engages women. I encourage leaders in our industry to participate in trainings to learn about inclusive leadership, unconscious bias and other aspects of diversity and inclusion that can have a significant impact on women in the workplace.
Having a diverse workforce makes a big impact on culture – and women are a key part of this. As I hold myself accountable in championing women, I urge my team to do the same. Last year, we launched an initiative asking everyone to make a commitment to mentor women colleagues, refer women candidates and initiate work opportunities with women who are early in their advisor careers. It needs to be everyone’s priority not only to attract more women to this career, but also to actively support their success once they are here.
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Women Leaders
When more women are represented in leadership, it paves the way for other women to thrive, provides powerful examples of what to aspire to, and drives business growth. Research shows that companies perform better when women are well represented at the top. As we work to advance progress for women in our workplaces now, we are setting the stage for the next generation of young women, and hopefully inspiring them.
To ensure we’re providing opportunities for more women to enter our leadership pipeline, we’re developing several programs including our Leadership Ascent program, which engages women in leadership early in their careers. We also have leadership programs for our tenured female leaders to ensure they are prepared for and advancing into the highest leadership levels. By providing access to similar development programs, organizations in our industry can keep that leadership spark alive among women advisors and empower them to explore leadership opportunities early on.
We have an opportunity – and an obligation – to set a new standard for how women are championed and celebrated in this industry. This work is never done, but we can and must continue to drive progress and improve the experience for all women advisors by taking these important steps – now is the time.
Sandra Botcher is vice president, field talent, Northwestern Mutual. She may be contacted at [email protected].