I hope every man in the financial services industry reads this article. Because, the reality is, without their help we may never get to a true gender balance amongst financial advisors.

Only 16 in 100 advisors are female, according to a Cerulli report. Women remain an untapped resource for much-needed talent, yet the industry numbers are still staggering in the lack of traction in recruiting more female advisors. Beyond the hurdle of recruiting women is the problem of retaining them. This industry is tough for anyone starting out, but particularly tough for females. But why? And how do we fix it?

Nina O'Neal, Triad Advisors

After I had my first child two weeks early, I left the hospital with my baby, dropped him off at home and went to my office. At the time, my partner and I were working mostly as silos instead of as a team operation, and we had mostly separate clients. Because the baby was early, I had loose ends that needed to be tied up and clients to notify.

As an independent advisor with my own firm, there was no real maternity leave with either child. I had to stay engaged in the business daily and went in to the office at least once a week. When each child turned six weeks old, I sent them to day care.

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After I had my first child two weeks early, I left the hospital with my baby, dropped him off at home and went to my office.

Now, when I think about how young that is and those precious days that I missed, I am deeply saddened. Those are days that I cannot get back. Those were hard, sleepless, slightly terrifying new mother days that I stumbled and cried through because I had a hard time handling the stress of both my job and my newborns.
During those days, I desperately wanted to quit, but I did not because I knew that I had found my professional calling.

Give us some credit: Most female advisors that I have met over the years have an unwavering commitment and passion for their jobs. I believe that without those two things, survival early in one’s career as an advisor is far less likely.

The stress can be unbearable and the stakes are high. As we were growing our firm and I was having children, the hurdles I faced daily were nearly crippling to my career. Relentless determination to not only survive, but to thrive, is crucial for long-term success.

Unfortunately, women are often dismissed by their male colleagues and counterparts. As I have attended industry conferences or answered the phone in my office, I have frequently been assumed to be an assistant, a wife or an operations associate.

Despite 14 years in financial services, 12 of which have been as a producing advisor and nine of which have been as co-owner and senior advisor of a firm, I still have to continually correct colleagues as to my role. Whether you’re meeting a young woman just coming into the profession or a woman with many years of experience, give them credit because they are likely experiencing or have already gone through many challenges as a female advisor.

The most frustrating hurdle can be the repeated dismissals from male counterparts. Women in this business are tough, and we should be seen for that tenacity.

Play with the boys: The most influential people in my career have been men. Without question, my business partner has been the most formative person in my success. A partnership or team with a balance of both genders has many valuable benefits for both the advisors, the overall team dynamics, and the clients.

Now, my partner and I share all clients and attend most meetings together. We both see things from different angles, communicate differently and listen when the other is talking. This creates a benefit for our clients. As the old saying goes, “two heads are better than one.”

During times when my family life draws me away, he steps in and takes care of client requests or meetings. My ability to continue to be both a young mother and an advisor rests solely on having a strong partner and team.

Beyond the office, I have many male friends and role models in the industry. They have supported me, encouraged me, challenged me, given me opportunities and helped me to believe in myself. Men in our industry have the opportunity to be advocates and trusted partners for their female colleagues.

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“Change will have to take place at all levels of the industry in order for us to begin to see the number of women advisors increase.”

Women clients do not have to be a woman’s niche: It has always confused me as to why our industry seems to think women want to work only with women on both the client and the advisor side.

As I seek professional services of all types, I look for qualified, like-minded professionals, and I don’t base these decisions on gender. This proves true for financial advisors as well. Colleagues often assume I want to focus on women as clients. This is wholeheartedly untrue. In fact, most of the single women in our client base work more closely with my partner, who is male.

I do not attend women’s groups for business development, and I do not focus on women as a client base in any way. However, women are wonderful clients of mine! They just happen to usually be in a couple and vary in age and life stages.

As females are being recruited and developed as advisors, it is important to impress on them that they can work with any type of person. Niche marketing is very effective and can help to grow a client base quickly. However, female advisors can determine whether or not that strategy is right for them. This also goes for young advisors, in general. At 25, I was comfortably working with retirees my grandparents’ age, and I still do. Be confident in your knowledge and demonstrate value. Clients of all ages and types will appreciate this approach.

Build a community: Being an independent advisor, a young advisor, a female advisor or a minority advisor — any of these things can at times feel very isolating.

When I was a rookie, I knew I needed a community, and when I went independent, I longed for colleagues beyond my office to engage with. Attending industry conferences has always been a good way for me to learn from peers and develop long-term friendships that have helped me stay focused in spite of challenges. Broker-dealers can continue to support and recruit female advisors by organizing conferences with both genders in the room, hosting separate networking opportunities for female attendees or facilitating intentional connections with like-minded women advisors.

Last year, I formed a women’s study group at my broker-dealer. We shared lessons about work-life balance dilemmas, technology tools, growth hurdles, client development ideas and investment strategies. Finding a community of support can be crucial to success, especially when you’re new to the profession or facing difficult days.

Being a financial advisor has been an incredibly rewarding job. I help people achieve long-term financial health, overcome problems and achieve their goals. Many women want to make a difference and have close interpersonal relationships. What better way than as a financial advisor?

That said, change will have to take place at all levels of the industry in order for us to begin to see the number of women advisors increase.

Nina O'Neal

Nina O'Neal

Nina O'Neal is an investment advisor and partner at Archer Investment Management in Raleigh, North Carolina. She focuses on financial planning for high income earning professionals, women and business owners.