Why Aren’t There More Women in the Industry?

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I recently attended an industry conference for women only. The question came up, “Why aren’t there more women in the industry?” It seems befuddling.

Firms seek female advisers to work with a growing number of wealthy female clients. And many specialists argue that, at least on the surface, there’s a natural fit between women and financial advising. It’s a profession that requires strong relationship skills, as well as a tendency to nurture, a balanced risk orientation, and an innate sense of ethics. But, although women account for about 47 percent1 of the U.S. labor force, they make up a much lower percent of the workers in this industry.

If you want a root cause, you need to look backward. There is a well-documented split between boys and girls that occurs early in middle school. Girls tend to lose confidence and competence in math. Fast-forward four to six years when young women meet with their high school guidance counselors to talk about colleges, majors and careers. Financial planning may seem like a pretty unattractive career choice to the young woman who is not particularly interested in math and who finds it difficult to fulfill her math requirements for graduation.

But it’s not just entering the career, it’s also sticking with it. One conference participant mentioned that one-third of the women in a particular wirehouse were women. In the independent channel, where women are typically business owners as well as financial advisers, the percentage of women shrinks. At Commonwealth Financial Network®, about 18 percent of our advisers are women.

Certainly academic performance in adolescence is far from the only reason why the current number of women in our industry is low; the smaller numbers also translate to fewer role models for other women.

But the good news is that the numbers are growing, though the change appears to be happening at a snail’s pace. Clearly women who are in the industry must do what they can to get the word out about how attractive the career is for women. Our industry needs both genders.

  1. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March Supplement, 1970–2000.

Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principle of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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