The CFP Board Center for Financial Planning recently posted an Instagram about women, math and financial advising that caused quite a stir. But it also opened the door to an important conversation about the ways women often misperceive what’s needed to become successful financial planners.
The post quoted a woman CFP professional who participated in a research focus group in 2013, conducted by CFP Board for its Women’s Initiative (WIN). The woman was recalling her initial reservations about entering the financial planning profession because this would require math skills she believed she did not have.
"When it came to math, for me, I was like forget about it! There's no way I can do this!” she said. “Sure enough, I could … the math [you] need to do it is all in a financial calculator, and [you] can certainly learn to use a financial calculator. It's like using an iPhone."
We originally published this quote in our 2014 WIN white paper, “Making More Room for Women in the Financial Planning Profession,” which examined the primary reasons why women represent only 23% of CFP professionals, despite the high levels of professional satisfaction reported by female CFP professionals. In the white paper, the quote was embedded in a discussion of one of several barriers to entry for women: namely the common misperception that financial planning is all about numbers and the stock market.
Our white paper has been widely distributed and well-received. However, the Instagram post upset several readers. They believed it reinforced a negative stereotype, that women are not good at math. The objection was also made that the quote seemed to dumb down the work of CFP professionals by implying that a financial calculator, rather than the professional herself, could do all the heavy computational lifting.
These takeaways were certainly not the message we intended. Our mistake was to publish the quote without its important contextual frame. We have made the determination that the Instagram post should be taken down.
We would, however, like to focus on a subtext in the published quote that is worthy of keeping in front of us all. Whether the woman in question was good at math is not the issue. What’s important are her beliefs about her competence. The quote was honest and vulnerable — as honest as Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and a supremely competent women by any one’s measure, admitting that she sometimes wakes up “feeling like a fraud.”
Women’s sense of not measuring up is a huge barrier of entry to the professional world. Why is it that, as reported by the Harvard Business Review in August 2014, most women do not respond to a job posting unless they meet all the listed position requirements, whereas men apply with just 60% of the pre-reqs in hand? Why is it that Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of "The Confidence Code," found in their extensive interviews with accomplished women that "the power centers of this nation are zones of female self-doubt?"
Clearly the path ahead for the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning is clear: We must continue to spread the real message about financial planning — namely, that is a profession requiring many skills, technical and non-technical, such as relationship building, an understanding of financial psychology and human behavior, and the ability to communicate financial concepts in a clear, accessible way. We must emphasize that financial planning is a discipline every bit as worthy as other noble professions such as law, medicine and accounting.
Furthermore, we must encourage women, as well as other racial and generational minorities, that they have much to offer in making the lives of American consumers and families more rewarding and secure.
Finally, we must share the important discovery made by the woman of our Instagram post: that despite her self doubt, she found that “sure enough” she could “do it. She has what it takes to become a CFP professional.