CHICAGO -- The wealth management industry has been woefully behind in closing the gender gap, but firms and advisors can mentor, spotlight role models and take other measures that encourage more women into the profession, say advocates.

CFP Board Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney said at the Women Advisors Forum this week that board research, as part of an ongoing effort to bring more women into the profession, showed that the average female advisor was about 6 years younger than the average male advisor. Research also revealed that women advisors were more likely to be salary-based, and paid less than their male counterparts. 

Blayney said gender discrimination also persists.

"We asked financial executives, 'Who makes a better planner?'" About 52%, a majority, said it doesn't matter,"  said Blayney.

 "Of those [executives] who said one is better than other, they were much more likely to say male," she added. "Elsewhere in the survey, we asked about certain characteristics, in terms of training, high ethical standards, and women came out with higher scores than did the men. Does anyone smell a contradiction?"

Fundulas Strategic Research and Aite Group have conducted studies on behalf of the CFP, as part of the initiative launched in 2013 under the leadership of Nancy Kistner, who was the CFP's board chair at the time. Among CFP professionals, only 23% are women, according to the board's website.[WA1] 

Blayney added that a disconnect between the industry's leaders and women advisors shows why there are not enough female advisors. Executives, when asked what factors were holding back women from joining the profession in greater numbers, cited family issues.

"One thing we did look at was the work life balance. It was remarkable, and we heard from a lot of young women because we talked to students in registered programs, and they said there's a tremendous flexibility. Not one of them brought up, 'Well I can't do this because I have a family.'

Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, the board's managing director of public policy and communications, said that firms and advisors can boost the number of female advisors in the profession through such measures such as increasing the visibility of role models, offering greater accessibility to a mentor, creating more awareness of the benefits of being in the profession.

"Successful women in the profession need to be visible as role models to women considering the profession," Mohrman-Gills said.

Having a mentor can help young advisors make inroads in the profession.

At an earlier presentation, Sherri Stephens told conference attendees that meeting her male mentor at age 18 was the catalyst that brought her into the profession.

"I remember going to meetings with him, and clients saying, 'I trust you or thank you so much for helping my family, would you talk to my kids?'  So much of this gratitude and trust. He was making a big difference in people's lives, and I just knew that this is what I wanted to do," said Stephens, who is president of Stephens Wealth Management Group, and an advisor at Raymond James Financial Services, the Tampa Bay-based firm's independent broker-dealer.

Building awareness of the profession among college students and recent graduates is critical as well.

"I teach in an MBA program and I'm astonished that more people don't know this is a career path, both men and women," Shannon Eusey, president and founder of Beacon Pointe Advisors of Newport Beach, Calif., said during a subsequent presentation.

"They're majoring in finance or economics, they're thinking about becoming an analyst on Wall Street, but no one realizes that this is a career path for them," said Eusey whose firm's advisors are 65% women.

Mohrman-Gills also said that firms can do more to create opportunities for women to enter the profession, by creating networking events and opportunities, and also by offering more salary-based compensation. Blayney also encouraged attendees, who were mostly women, to get out in their own communities and share their stories at career fair days at schools and colleges to make the profession a more visible option. The board has even created a toolkit, which includes tips on using social media and a letter of introduction to the project, to help women advisors become advocates for the profession.

"You bring the passion, we'll provide the tools," she said.

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