More women are earning official financial planning credentials, but they still make up less than one-in-four CFP professionals. That’s a ratio Kathleen McQuiggan, an industry veteran, wants to nudge quite a bit higher.

The CFP Board announced it has appointed McQuiggan to serve as a special advisor on gender diversity, a leadership role overseeing the board's Women's Initiative.

McQuiggan's appointment comes as the board is touting record female involvement in the profession, while at the same time reporting that gender disparity remains stubbornly unchanged.

"Last year, we saw a record number of women earn CFP certification, but the fact remains that women make up only 23% of CFP professionals," Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, executive director of the CFP Board's Center for Financial Planning, says in a statement.

If that number sounds familiar, that’s because it hasn’t budged in years. In 2014, the CFP Board issued a white paper lamenting that, "Despite impressive growth in the number of CFP professionals in recent years, the percentage who are women has remained flat, at about 23%."

The majority of public and private funds using the strategy that focuses on improving the lives of women and girls have been launched in the last three years.
McQuiggan says her objective is to diminish the low ratio of women to men CFP holders. Bloomberg News

Going back even further to 2007, when the CFP Board moved its headquarters from Denver to Washington, and Kevin Keller took over as CEO, the ratio held the same: the board ended the year reporting 56,511 CFPs. A spokeswoman for the CFP Board says that that same year, women accounted for 13,191 of all CFP designees — or 23%.

McQuiggan's objective will be to diminish that imbalance. She says she will continue the Center for Financial Planning’s existing awareness campaigns and dispatch more advocates and mentors to promote planning careers. She also hopes to build upon partnerships with groups like Invest in Girls and Rock the Street.

"A lot of women just don't understand what this job is," McQuiggan says. "There's just a lot of misperception about what financial planning is and how we help people handle their financial lives."

A veteran of Goldman Sachs, McQuiggan went on to launch her own consultancy and then jumped to Pax World Management, where she oversaw the Pax Ellevate Global Women's Index Fund and headed up a women's practice management initiative. McQuiggan now works as an advisor with the Boston-based firm Artemis Financial Advisors, where she says issues like gender diversity and social responsibility animate her practice.

"The work I'm doing at Artemis today, I do have a focus on working with kind of breadwinning women and bring some sustainable investing into clients' portfolios, if they have an interest," she says.

McQuiggan is working on her own CFP certification, with plans to sit for the test in March.

Kathleen McQuiggan, Special Adviser on Gender Diversity for CFP Board Center for Financial Planning.

In a statement, Mohrman-Gillis praises McQuiggan as "a true expert on gender diversity in financial services," hailing her as someone who is "passionate about empowering more women to succeed in the financial planning profession" and looking forward to her efforts to "advance programs and initiatives that will effect real change" at the CFP Board's Center for Financial Planning.

But the question remains, after women's participation in the planning profession has held flat for at least a decade, how will real change come about?

Nicole Christians, a CFP and one of the leaders of Kulhavi Wealth Management in Farmington Hills, Michigan, stresses the importance of ongoing efforts to boost awareness. Many women reflexively reject the field, Christians says, not understanding the rich human dimension of a career in financial planning that might be more of a draw than the raw numbers.

"I think it's a great industry for women. Women's motivations are different," she says. "Sure, it's a job you can do quite well at financially, but at least in my view, what's rewarding is getting to help clients."

Carolyn McClanahan, director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, acknowledges the slow rate of change, but nonetheless sees momentum building for women in the field.

Advisor Carolyn McClanahan says she sees momentum building for women in the financial advisory field.

"It is a shame that the number has held steady for such a long time," McClanahan writes in an email. "I think it will only get better." McClanahan is a Financial Planning contributor.

McQuiggan positions the gender issue as a central business challenge for the industry, noting the advancing age of the advisory workforce and arguing that millennial investors will seek out firms with a younger and more diverse staff.

"In financial planning, we've all known these numbers are coming, but I think they're really starting to catch firms and force them to rethink their businesses and really make the workforce reflective of the clients they serve," she says. "I think some of these talent gap trends are becoming much more visible, and also I think that when we look out at the world today, the conversation of the importance of having a more gender-diverse workforce is becoming front and center."

McQuiggan will assume the role vacated by Eleanor Blayney, who is stepping down from her official position with the board's Center for Financial Planning, but will remain a member of the board's WIN Council.

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