WASHINGTON -- The CFP Board is calling on advisory firms to examine their efforts to close the gender gap in a profession where men hold a substantial majority of positions and dramatically out-earn their female colleagues.

Speaking at the organization's recent registered program conference, Eleanor Blayney, the CFP Board's consumer advocate, spoke of the need for "environmental reform" inside firms to elevate the profile of women and other underrepresented groups within the industry.

"We need to create this visibility of women leaders to make the profession more attractive," Blayney says. "This needs to happen within the profession -- encouraging firm top management to make a commitment to measurable gender and diversity goals."

In that spirit, Blayney outlined an array of new efforts that the CFP Board is launching under the aegis of the Women's Initiative, or WIN, that the group rolled out last year.


That begins with an internal review of the CFP Board's operations "to make sure that all our departments and functions align with this goal to bring more women in," Blayney says.

"This is our agenda for the next several years," she explains. "It's going to start with us."

Through a multi-pronged set of initiatives, the CFP Board is seeking to position itself as a guidepost to advance the industry's varied efforts to even out the gender gap in a profession where women have accounted for less than a quarter of CFPs for at least a decade.

"CFP Board cannot look at this problem and not take a leadership role. We will lead the way," Blayney says. "There are so many players, so many stakeholders, so many people who are affected by this issue, we are in a prime position to be the leader and the catalyst for bringing more women into the profession."

The board intends to start a WIN council to advise the organization on its gender diversity initiatives, which will include a variety of outreach efforts aimed at firms and schools.

On the industry front, the CFP Board plans to partner with select firms to launch "pilot gender diversity and professional development programs" in a bid to produce a set of policies and programs that could then be applied at firms across the industry, Blayney says.

"This is an opportunity for firms to address this to see what works within the firm and to develop some best practices for firms to adopt across the board," she says.


The CFP Board is calling on firms to embrace greater transparency in compensation, where the disparities between men and women are glaring. A study that the board commissioned found that female advisors earn $32,000 less per year than men with comparable levels of experience, revenue production and ownership stakes in their firms. The board is also advocating for a broader mix of compensation structures that could be better aligned to women's career goals.

Blayney also appeals to advisory practices to "build, sponsor and encourage in-firm mentoring and networking programs for women" to boost the visibility of female advisors within the field, and to combat the perception of financial planning as a boy's club.

"More female role models are needed," Blayney says. "I call this in some senses a circular problem because ... we have a very small supply of those role models to create the examples that will bring more women in, so it's a pernicious, vicious cycle that needs to be turned around."

Since the WIN program was announced, the CFP Board has been lining up advocates "who will extend our reach into communities and organizations," Blayney says. To date, the board has enlisted nearly 400 individuals who have committed to evangelize on behalf of the financial planning and financial literacy at a grass-roots level.

In the education arena, the CFP Board is looking to make inroads at the collegiate level and earlier to promote planning "as a distinct profession," working to counter the perception that the field is just another subset of financial services. Those efforts will focus on "emphasizing that financial planning is a holistic, relationship-building profession," Blayney says.

Additionally, the board is planning to launch an awareness campaign themed around the faces and voices of women CFPs, and will be developing conference materials and workshops to illuminate the various business models of the industry and help women envision where a career in the field might take them.

"We need to be doing that 'now what' for women: You got the job, now what?" Blayney says. "What does it look like to be in fee-only? What does it look like to be in an RIA?"

Kenneth Corbin is a Financial Planning contributing writer in Washington.

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