Globally, women are more economically powerful than ever before.
Currently, women control the majority of personal wealth in the United States, own businesses that contribute $3 trillion annually to the economy, and are due to inherit 70% of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfers in the next 40 years. Despite this financial influence, many women still struggle to express their personal power in the workplace.
This ambivalence hurts your female clients and you. Unless each of us learns to embrace our personal power and become financially and professionally self-assured, women will continue to only occupy a small fraction of the leadership roles in this male-dominated industry.
Examples of womens ambivalence about power abound in the work place. For instance, when was the last time you witnessed a female advisor or client apologize before asking a question or downplay her success to make sure she appeared likeable and unthreatening? Or maybe you have seen a woman sit quietly in a meeting and fail to speak up even though she had something of value to contribute. Most women can identify with these scenarios. But it is time to eliminate this type of behavior as it undermines all women professionals and clients trying to establish equal footing with their male counterparts. The truth is you can be feminine, in control, and have a seat at the table with the men. You just have to speak up and let them know you want it.
This is not an easy proposition due to our culture viewing women in power unfavorably or at best the exception to the rule. Society tells women that they need to be nurturing and put others needs first to be strong. However, to succeed in the male-oriented financial world, you need to be aggressive, driven, and at times self-serving. This is a tricky proposition for women advisors as it is highly likely that some of her peers -- both male and female will see these traits as cold and calculating, even if they see them as smart and savvy when displayed by men. It is unfair, but real. So you can sit back and not say anything, or you can role model to your colleagues and clients and outwardly and inwardly embrace being feminine and powerful.
While women have come a long way since the 1970s and the womens rights movement, there is still a long way to go. Simply turn on your television set and you will be bombarded with messages that career-driven women are lonely (Nashville), unlovable (The Mindy Project), and sometimes downright psychotic (Damages). The underlying, not-so-subtle message is women must choose between love and money because you cant have both.
Added to our cultures ambivalence regarding women in power is the male-dominated financial services industry where the sales, marketing, and advisory approaches were created by men for men, leaving many of our female clients, and some female advisors, feeling neglected and overlooked. While many of the top firms recognize that affluent women are unhappy with the industry, many are still pursuing the womens market using a hunters mentality. In other words, they set their sights on a homogenous market (women) and then pursue them as if they were a herd of deer. They hunt them down like prey and wonder why these female clients dont sign up or leave them soon after a divorce or the death of their spouse. These women clients are exerting their power when they feel it is safe to do so and reaching out to more female-friendly advisors who appreciate and incorporate key gender differences into their advisory relationships.
Women are gatherers, networkers, and connectors. Therefore, firms and advisors fare much better when they first clearly define the types of women and their unique financial circumstances in their marketing and outreach efforts. They use education, outreach, and community to build trust with these clients. It takes more time up front but is far more effective as a long-term growth strategy, and women who are on-boarded this way tend to be clients for life.
What can you do to empower yourself and your clients? Start by understanding yourself. Take the time to examine where you feel comfortable expressing your influence and where you still struggle. Make a plan to work on those areas where you still feel ambivalent expressing your ideas, opinions, or authority. Find other female professionals who are willing to talk about this issue and support each other in taking steps to think and act bigger than they ever have before. Next, include male advisors and leaders in the conversation. Serving affluent women clients, both individually and as a member of a couple, is not only a female advisors issue. It is a challenge that both genders need to face. And when we all agree that a powerful woman, like a powerful man, in the workplace is a good thing, then we can really make some progress serving all our clients better.
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert and founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women and How to Give Financial Advice to Couples, both published by McGraw-Hill. For more information, visit kbkwealthconnection.com.