As National Women’s Equality Day approaches, I realize how much work must still be done to fulfill that promise. My success as an independent financial advisor, author and speaker has not freed me from discrimination. Recently, I met with the trust attorney of a prospective client. I was excited to discuss my expertise, experience, firm and clientele. Instead, he asked me, “Why is your hair so long?”
I left in tears. I didn’t respond to the question. I did not want to go back and see him again, but I had to, so I put my hair in a bun, returned and signed the new client.
National Women’s Equality Day, on August 26, celebrates women gaining the right to vote. I can’t believe our founding fathers left women out. Like they say in the musical “Hamilton,” if I met Thomas Jefferson, I would compel him to include women in the sequel. Even today, far too many women are left out of finance, whether they’re advisors or investors.
I was brought up with the notion I could be anything I wanted to be — even president. I never felt like I had to compromise or that a profession like finance was too male. It never even occurred to me. My dad worked in finance, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
I soon discovered that only 15 percent of advisors are women, according to a report from research and consulting firm Cerulli Associates. Many females are in support roles or teaching. The big money goes to the ones managing most of the money, of which the number is much smaller. I am one of those people.
I always figured my current position was a great place to be in because I can control my own destiny. But there are factors at work that make it more difficult for women. I was curious how I would rank if I did not have these hurdles to overcome. In other words, how much more money I would make if I were a man in my profession?
I took a Time Labs quiz online, which pulled wage data provided by IPUMS USA and the University of Minnesota, to answer this question and was appalled at the results. It said I would make 90 percent more money if I were a man. Excuse me, what?
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The quiz illustrates the pay gap in the financial services field: Male financial advisors within my age range earn an average of about $159,000 compared to the $83,70 that females within the same age range make. It goes without saying that this pay gap is striking. Narrowing the pay gap is only part of the work that must be done for true equality for women. Support and a good culture fit are every bit as important as the pay. When it comes to learning from others’ experiences and getting empowered and motivated, finding the right mentors can make all the difference. We all have experiences that we can share to help others forge their own paths.
I started my financial services firm in 2001. It gave me control, but I was an island. In 2009, I joined a larger firm where I was the only female partner. I remember one of the male partners saying to me, “When you get to X amount in assets, then you can play with the big boys.”
I had about $10 million less and was 20 years younger than him. This was from a man who had so many unanswered messages on his phone you couldn’t leave him a voicemail. He believed you should spend as little time with the client as possible. He was my opposite. I didn’t want to be anything like him. The good news is, I stayed true to myself, and since then have quadrupled my assets under management, leaving that “big boy” in the dust.
Women deserve a strong network of both male and female peers and mentors. This is why I joined United Capital, a financial life management firm that values the voices of women whether they are employees or clients. As one of the leaders of the firm’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, I see the difference it makes when more women have a seat at the table: fewer barriers to success, fewer “big boys” gaffes from tone-deaf colleagues and more people who share and value your lived experience.
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