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Hiring women still an ‘uphill battle’ at Raymond James

Renée Baker, head of advisor inclusion networks Raymond James Women's Symposium 9/13/19
Renée Baker is the new head of the Raymond James Network for Women Advisors. She will also oversee the the firm's networks for black and LGBTQ advisors.

ORLANDO — Hiring more women still feels like “an uphill battle” at Raymond James, according to Renée Baker, the firm’s new face of its advisor inclusion networks.

Baker was 10 days into the new role when she got up on stage Wednesday to introduce the firm’s 25th annual Women’s Symposium and affirm that the company is committed to welcoming and supporting women, racially diverse and LGBTQ advisors.

Michelle Lynch, Baker’s predecessor, who led the Network for Women Advisors since May 2015, started off the presentation, pointing out an issue that is no secret to the 420 financial planners at the Ritz Carlton in Orlando — there’s a shortage of women at Raymond James.

Just under 16% of the firm’s advisors are women, Lynch said. The number is nearly identical across both the employee and independent channels at the firm, she said later in an interview.

The lack of gender and racial diversity in the financial planning profession has been a challenge since its inception.

Even now, despite scores of outreach initiatives, only about 14% of financial advisors are women, according to the latest Cerulli data from year-end 2017. Less than 3.5% of CFPs in the US are black or Latino, according to the CFP Board.

Many firms decline to break down their headcount by gender (for example, only 28 of 52 IBDs told Financial Planning how many women financial advisors were affiliated with their firms in this year’s IBD Elite survey).

At Raymond James there has been some progress in terms of recruiting women, according to Lynch. The number of women advisors at the company has grown by 57%, to more than 1,100 from 700, since she took the role in 2015. Lynch says attrition in female employee ranks is strong, though she declined to give a specific number apart from stating it was “definitely lower” than the firm-wide regrettable attrition rate, which is under 1% (this number refers to advisors the firm hoped to retain).

There have been setbacks to the firm’s gender ratio, Lynch says in the interview. One was the Raymond James’ acquisition of Alex. Brown which was dominated by male advisors.

“We have so much more work to do here” and “the progress feels slow,” Lynch said in her presentation.

As head of all advisor networks, Baker will oversee the women’s group as well as the Black Financial Advisors Network and Advisor Pride network. The latter had a soft launch this spring and was created to support the firm’s clients and financial advisors who identify with the LGBTQ community.

Baker’s goals are similar to that of her predecessor: Recruit and retain more diverse talent. She intends to continue Lynch’s work at the women’s network, saying many things are going well and if “it’s not broken, we won’t fix it.”

But Baker says she is realistic about the challenges of making the firm more diverse and isn’t setting any numeric targets.

“In an industry where I know that the numbers are already low for women, even lower for minorities ... I've been around this game long enough to know I'm not going to set myself up for failure,” she says.

It’s important to redefine diversity since the term often excludes individuals such as veterans, those who are disabled and members of the LGBTQ community, she says.

“Even how we calculate that number and how, as an industry, we look at diversity — that might need to be enhanced as well,” says Baker in the interview.

At Raymond James, the front line of improving diversity will be in its training program, the Advisor Mastery Program, according to Lynch. Roughly 36% of the training classes are diverse, she says.

“We have an HR sourcing team who are really focused on trying to bring in diverse candidates into the program,” she says.

Raymond James is also launching a new initiative, dubbed the wealth management associate program, that will be rolled out in January 2020. The two-year entry program places individuals in particular offices, allowing them to learn many aspects of the profession and helps ease them into it.

“We've just found that diverse candidates and women specifically hesitate to jump right into the AMP role,” Lynch says.

The firm is currently taking applications and plans to accept fewer than 20 candidates this year, Lynch says. The program will be extended to the firm’s independent channel “not very far from now,” Lynch said, without giving a specific date.

“We know that diversity is necessary,” says Baker. “So now it's about recognizing that recruiting and retaining and including these advisors into our overall networks and into our firms so they feel supported and recognize the benefit of coming to work for Raymond James.”

Lynch is shifting into an Eastern divisional sales manager role and says she will continue to aid Baker if needed. She will focus particularly on recruiting more women specifically to the training program in her new role.

In the interview, Baker says she is looking forward to “stand[ing] on the shoulders” of the work Lynch has done.

“You better take those heels off first,” Lynch says.

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