Women advisors share the tough advice that shaped their careers

Long-standing cultural norms and stereotypes have kept finance a boy’s club, but some women financial planners have received bracing advice that has helped them grow and thrive in this challenging field.

Just 32% of financial advisors are women, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and only 23% of advisors with a CFP designation are women, according to the CFP Board. The numbers for black and Latino CFP holders are even lower.

Women, people of color and other minority groups have been fighting for acceptance in many fields. We asked women financial advisors for the toughest advice they received when joining the industry. One thing is certain: The road to a more inclusive industry will be difficult to navigate.

Scroll through to see what they have to say.

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Heather Hale, Peak Financial Planning, Nashville

“The toughest advice I ever received was from another financial advisor. He told me that male business owners didn’t want to work with a female financial advisor, especially in the good ‘ol boy South,” says Hale.

The advice angered Hale at first. She was eager to own her own firm, having seen the lucrative market for her firm’s mostly male advisors. Later, she left the big firms and struck out on her own by developing a niche-client base.

“His advice made me realize that I needed to pursue my passion, rather than [worry] what everyone else was doing. I now work with families of college-bound high school students to help them determine the best way to pay for college, given the savings they already have. My clients tell me they can see and feel my passion about what I do. I have more satisfaction with my clients than I ever have in my 15-year career. It made me understand that I can follow my own path to success and not have to copy my male counterparts.”
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Carol Fabbri, Founder, Fair Advisors Institute, Conifer, Colorado

“When I first joined the field, the advisor in charge of the training program told me, ‘If you want to succeed in this business, never have kids.’ He wasn't trying to be a jerk,” says Fabbri.
The advisor, Fabbri says, believed he was offering constructive and supportive advice.

“When I looked shocked, he doubled down, continuing, ‘I mean, if you have kids, you just won't make it,’" she says. “I was inspired by these words. It is a rare gift to receive unfiltered opinions, even stupid ones. Knowing how this man thought armed me for further encounters with him. It also lit a candle inside me because there was no way I would allow him to be right. My son is 11 and I'm still succeeding in this business.”
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Rachel Moran, Senior Advisor, RTD Financial, Philadelphia

“No one cares more about your career than you do.” That’s the best advice Rachel Moran says she’s ever received.

“At first, it sounded harsh. As women, we are naturally caring, and I think, naïvely, I felt others would be actively looking out for my best interests. While others may help you along the way, you need to be your own advocate and ask for what you want. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.”
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Francine Duke, Founder, Aqua Financial Planning, Vernon Hills, Illinois

I had an experience very early in my business career where I was promoted to an underwriter from an assistant. All of the other underwriters were men except one,” says Duke. “When one of the men heard about my promotion, he thought it was the stupidest idea. Since I did ‘such a good job’ as an assistant, I should stay in that role.”

“I got a substantial raise with that promotion and eventually was promoted to vice president. Now, I own my own firm. I’d say I was motivated!”
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Breanna Reish, Advisor, Wealth of Confidence, Riverside, California

“When I sat in my first job interview, I was told that I cannot help everyone,” says Reish. “That was very hard to hear since I wanted to be a planner to help people. It made me realize that I should put my efforts into helping those that seek out the help, all the while putting out education for those who may not be ready yet. It took pressure off from feeling like I needed to sell anyone and instead allowed me to put time into helping those who wanted the help.”

“I was told that a fee-only planner just doesn't work, giving up commissions is dumb and that working with teachers without commission products will never work out. My response [was], ‘watch me!’”
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Susan O. Brown, Wells Fargo, Charlotte, North Carolina

“The best advice I ever received was, ‘you’re not qualified’ when I applied for a managerial position [for which] I was absolutely qualified,” says Brown. “All of the male applicants were granted an interview — whereas I wasn’t even offered one! Rather than quit in despair, it only deepened my determination. I hired a business coach (who incidentally told me I was a Level 5 Manager — which is extremely rare) and focused my energy on building my own practice. Now, I’m living my dream managing my own, all-female, multi-generational wealth management team.”
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Michelle Smith, CEO, Source Financial Advisors, New York

“The toughest advice I ever received [came] about 15 years ago, my branch manager at the time, a sincerely great manager at Wachovia, sat me down one afternoon and applauded my visionary ability, my entrepreneurial spirit, and my never-ending capacity for idea generating,” says Smith.

“He looked me straight in the eye and very firmly told me that I need to focus. He was watching me try to grow my business, he saw my potential, and shared that he thought I had more potential than most advisors in the branch, but that it was time for me to use the zoom lens for my camera, not the wide-angle lens.

“He told me that he would not fund any more marketing ideas or lunches, dinners, or any events that he didn’t see that aligned with my focus. And he begged me to see this as a gift he was giving me, versus taking something away.

“In that moment, I was unable to see the wisdom of his words, and what I heard him saying was that I was flaky. A few days and therapy sessions later, I was able to separate out my emotional response to his very wise observation and advice, and it truly set me on the path to becoming one of the most recognized divorce financial experts in the country, as well as growing the business 10-fold.

“While my entrepreneurial spirit and capacity for generating new and visionary ideas will never leave, nor do I want it to, I still reflect back on that conversation that left me feeling dejected, humiliated and like I was failing. I am forever grateful for his courage and direct tough love at that stage in my career.”
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Nicole Corning, Wells Fargo, Scottsdale, Arizona

“I was encouraged by a former manager to “Fail Forward” and this advice still underpins my goal setting. For me, it means we need to dream the seemingly impossible and set goals that appear unattainable. I find when I do this, I surpass my ‘realistic” goals,’” says Corning. “It’s okay to not succeed. I think this is particularly important for women to remember as we tend to take fewer risks and try to map everything out in advance. Yet, I’ve found when we follow our female intuition even if we fail. We move closer to where we are meant to be.”