Women have a crucial role to play in boosting the diversity of advice

InvestmentNews recognized 22 female leaders in the financial advice industry last Monday with a virtual celebration of its 2019 Women to Watch and a workshop aimed at finding ways to encourage more women to embrace the business.

“I tripped into this profession very fortunately,” said Elissa Buie, co-founder of Yeske Buie and the 2019 Alexandra Armstrong Lifetime Achievement Award winner. “There were a lot of times along way when I just had to grit my teeth, take a deep breath and jump in with both feet and do something that I was completely unprepared to do and just make it work as I went along.”

Many of the Women to Watch honorees — which include advisers, portfolio managers, fintech experts and more — encouraged women to push themselves into more situations even if they don’t feel 100% prepared. Otherwise, women will continue to see themselves less represented in upper levels of the financial advice industry, they said.

Recent research from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey showed that while women and men enter the workforce in roughly equal numbers, men outnumber women nearly two to one when they reach the first step up into manager jobs that are the bridge to more senior leadership roles.

[More: Register for the final Women Adviser Summit of 2020]

Asked to choose which factor is most important to supporting women, 31% of attendees said mentoring, 29% said a commitment from senior management, 20% said a dynamic leader, 18% said a good management program and 2% said a flexible work situation. About 75 Women to Watch honorees from 2019 and the four previous years attended the virtual event.

Highlighting the value that mentoring can have for both mentor and mentee, 2019 honoree Judith McGee, CEO of McGee Wealth Management, described the special relationship she has developed with a young black financial adviser in Washington, D.C.

“I find I have so much in common with her. What would you think she’d have in common with an old white lady in Portland, Oregon? Well there’s a lot,” McGee said. “Our stories aren’t that different even though we grew up in different parts of the country. Our values are aligned. I am having an absolute blast being a part of her life.”

[More: View all the 2019 Women to Watch]

Several women participating in the two-hour event described joining the profession because they wanted to have an impact on the world and specifically help people make better decisions about money than they had seen in their own lives.

The 2019 Rising Star honoree Phuong Luong, founder of Just Wealth, described her specific goals in joining the profession.

“I had a mission in mind to change the way we think and talk about why poverty exists and to change the myths of what makes people poor and what makes people wealthy,” Luong said. “And to shift the rhetoric away from personal failing to systemic barriers that impact us all.”

The pandemic, which was the reason the event was rescheduled from March in New York, and its impact on advisory firms was discussed, as well. Many women said they have deepened relationships with clients during this unprecedented period.

Maura Creekmore, head of global client relationships for BNY Mellon|Pershing, described creative ways advisers are reaching out to clients, including wine tastings, sponsoring floral arranging sessions, and hiring professional pumpkin carvers to decorate pumpkins with clients’ children.

“Those advisers are the ones who are going to be much more successful at the end of this thing,” she said.

Cheryl Nash, CEO of fintech firm Tegra118 and a 2017 Woman to Watch, said firms that have invested in technology “have been able to use it as an opportunity to better serve clients, increase retention and increase earning power.”

Nash described her first-hand experience with an adviser who didn’t embrace technology. She fired him after he “went dark” between March and May of this year and then he wanted to meet in person in June.

“I really wanted to work with someone who was on top of their game and who came to me with new ways to collaborate,” she said. “The lack of technology and proactiveness at the beginning of this pandemic really made my mind up to move somewhere else.”

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