We are in the midst of a fire storm of controversy today chronicling inappropriate work place behaviors between men and women. The revelations about Silicon Valley and Hollywood are bringing renewed attention to this subject. Wall Street has long been viewed as a bastion of male domination. While clearly the boorish, oafish, frat house/locker room, egregious behaviors that were rife in the 1960s, 70s and 80s may have been addressed, there is still much work to be done.
Barron’s Magazine made sexual harassment/gender discrimination the topic of their cover article in the recent November 4th issue. In it, they stated: “Based on Morgan Stanley’s research, the financial sector appears to have done best in diversifying its workforce by gender, with a 50/50 split between male and female employees. But parity isn’t found in its upper ranks. On average, women account for about 30% of managers, 15% of executives, and 20% of board members. This raises concerns about advancement of women in the sector, Morgan Stanley says, concluding that financial-service companies “appear to be missing an opportunity.”
Apart from equality of opportunity and representation is the separate issue of how to avoid insensitivities when crafting messaging and marketing to a female audience. I asked three distinguished female leaders in various roles within the financial services industry what their experience has been carving a pathway for future women to follow in finance. Their observations are instructive and enlightening.
Do you ever experience any gender stereotyping in the marketing campaigns you receive from asset managers?
Winnie Sun, Financial Advisor, founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners: For the most part, marketing campaigns from asset managers are pretty gender neutral, but I think it’s because it’s traditionally so plain with very little graphics or imagery. The colors chosen, however, do skew with dark blues, browns, etc. I do think, however, anything college savings related is marketed towards women, grandmothers, etc.
Sonya Dreizler, founder of Solutions with Sonya and former financial services CEO: No specific ones come to mind but I’ve seen many marketing campaigns with stock photos of only men sitting around a conference table.
Katharine Earhart, Principal for Alesco Advisors: Several years ago this was definitely the case. I felt many of the asset management ads were focused on male advisors or in the case of Institutional Investing, that it was focused on a male portfolio manager or CIO. I didn’t feel the ads really spoke to me as a decision-maker or influencer. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen a shift and I believe that’s in part due to the increase in women’s financial decision-making power. A 2014 Study called “The Power of the Purse” noted that women are now decision-makers over $11.2T in investable assets in the U.S.
Do you feel that the wholesalers approach you in the same way they do male advisors?
Winnie: It’s hard to generalize because there are certainly many wholesalers who treat me the same or even better than my male business partner now. However, when I was first starting out, I felt wholesalers, especially those who were older, treated me differently than my male counterparts. They would still give me information, but would not make as much effort to connect with me.
Sonya: When I was younger, yes definitely, particularly from the older, male wholesalers. I remember sitting in meetings where I was the decision maker in the room, and wholesalers would make their entire pitch while only making eye contact with my male colleagues. As I received promotions with more executive sounding titles – and a few wrinkles – I started to be treated more equitably.
Katharine: At times, yes some wholesalers focus on selling the product and less on understanding my needs and pain points. I’ve noticed the female wholesalers (although fewer of them) will spend more time building a relationship and understanding my pain points.
As a woman in finance, have you ever experienced any sort of gender bias?
Winnie: Yes, I have. Very early in my career, I had a male advisor and even a male branch manager make inappropriate comments. The same male branch manager who would take a group of male advisors out to a special weekly breakfast, but female advisors were almost never invited. I also felt very uncomfortable getting pregnant and having children while working at my previous firm; it was all very awkward, and I felt a need to get back to the office and back to work immediately after my baby was born. I had a new male manager at the time, and he was very supportive, but it still wasn’t like it was for my third child, who I gave birth to after leaving the wirehouse and starting our own, independent firm.
Sonya: Yes, all the time. From my first year in the business with male peers asking me to make them coffee and being hit on at professional networking events, all the way until now. These types of things happened throughout my career and continue to happen. Even, earlier this year, after being in this business for fifteen years and with COO and CEO experience, when I was booking a speaking engagement at a conference, the male organizer asked me to hand out guest name tags at the check in desk in exchange for the opportunity to speak at his event.
Katharine: Early in my career, colleagues or managers would make assumptions that I must not be able to travel because I have a family, or the assumption I am not the breadwinner so therefore my compensation is less important to me. Fortunately, there are Fortune 500 companies now focused on this and providing training on unconscious bias, which educates managers and employees on ways we might be holding people back based on our assumptions. I feel fortunate now at Alesco Advisors where our Founder and Partners very much want to support women. In addition to my business partner and me, we have added another female advisor in the past year.
Do you think the industry as a whole has gotten better? What can it do to improve?
Winnie: I don’t think the industry has gotten much better; I think they want you to think it’s gotten better. But then I could be wrong, because I left the traditional wirehouse to start our own firm a few years ago. But, from what I understand there still isn’t a real maternity leave program for financial advisors, more women in senior management, or significantly more women becoming advisors.
Sonya: I have not witnessed a major behavior shift yet, but I am heartened to see that it’s an issue that regularly gets media attention. Talking about and studying the inequity is the first step. Thank you for doing that here today! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that as a woman I’ve faced much discrimination, but I am white and have not faced nearly as much as my black, Latina, Asian, and Native women peers. To improve, I’d love to see companies formalize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that have the full support of upper management and buy-in throughout the organization. I would encourage both men and women who have climbed the corporate ladder, to look back and help mentor other people, and when they do so, stretch out of their comfort zones and offer their knowledge and resources to women of color as frequently as possible. The makeup of our board rooms, C-suites, and companies should reflect the diversity of the broader communities in which we live. We’re pitifully behind as an industry but if everyone steps up, we can change the face of our industry for the next generation.
Katharine: Yes, there is growing awareness of unconscious bias, which is good. But we need more training, awareness building and incentives to promote and pay women, including getting women on Public Company boards.
Do you belong to any women in finance groups?
Winnie: I’m on the board of Investment News’ Women to Watch committee.
Sonya: I have a fabulous network of supportive women friends, both inside and outside of the financial services industry. I’m incredibly grateful for that community and informal support network. I’m a member of WISE SF, a network of local women working in the impact investing space. And I am part of a facilitated group that coaches’ women entrepreneurs, but that isn’t specific to finance.
We have talked a lot about what not to do, but perhaps what would be of greater value is how to model the right behaviors. There is much work left to be done in the area of educating men, providing women more opportunities as well as success stories surrounding mentoring and interacting with women. Stay tuned – we hope to cover those topics in future.
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