By Alison Macalpine
Although there are only 17 women among the 150 financial professionals in SHOOK Research and The Globe and Mail’s inaugural ranking of Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors, some of them say the reasons why female representation in the investment industry remains low are nuanced, and opportunities are improving for women in this business.
“I never once felt like I was ever held back or encouraged not to try to develop my career in the industry from anybody – and I worked at several different firms over the years,” says Karen Harrison, senior vice president and portfolio manager with the Harrison Group at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management in Calgary.
The challenge is that many women don’t even consider entering the profession, says Ms. Harrison, who has been an advisor since 1989. Perhaps that’s a legacy of a time when men tended to be the financial decision-makers within families. Or maybe it’s because women don’t know how exciting being an advisor can be, learning about new products, investment structures and financial planning strategies every day, and building a unique relationship with each client. Whatever the reasons, she wants women to know their gender won’t limit their career potential. In fact, she believes the opposite is true.
“We connect on a different level with our clients than maybe the men do, and that’s a really wonderful thing,” Ms. Harrison says. Although she would love a 50-50 split between men and women in the profession, she adds, “Right now, I think if you’re a woman in this industry you stand out [and] that’s an advantage.”
Why women’s skills are in demand
Mary Ellen Byrne, vice president, portfolio manager and investment advisor with TD Wealth Private Investment Advice in Halifax, shares that view.
“I feel very sought after,” she says. “[Firms] are really wanting to have more women in this business because we’re so good at it. I feel the tables have turned dramatically.”
When she started offering investment advice in her mid-20s, she felt the biggest barrier was that people didn’t take her seriously because of her youth rather than her gender. She recommends that advisors who are just starting out align themselves with a team rather than trying to go it alone. That can help address another reason some women opt out of this line of work.
“When you take your foot off the gas, it’s hard to restart … unless you have a really solid team,” Ms. Byrne says. “That could be why younger women are not going down that road, just because they’re worried that once they do take time off to have kids, it would be hard to come back to.”
Finding the right balance
Even women already in the industry may shy away from opportunities because of a perception that growing their practices will affect their work-life balance negatively. That can deter women from accepting an offer to partner with another advisor or buy a book of business, says Alexandra Horwood, director, wealth management, portfolio manager and investment advisor with Alexandra Horwood & Partners at Richardson Wealth Ltd. in Toronto.
“There’s such a misconception. I run my own business. I manage almost half a billion dollars in assets. I have four full-time employees. I work hard, but I have unlimited flexibility. … It is so manageable,” she says.
What’s critical, Ms. Horwood says, is to accept the need for extra help, whether that’s with child care, cleaning, lawn maintenance, or anything else, and focus time and energy on where it has the greatest impact.
Ms. Horwood also tells the women she mentors to ask for more money. “I believe one of the big, main contributors to the gender pay gap is the fact that we are not asking and we are not putting our foot down and forcing it, whereas the men are asking, prodding, pushing, and they’re getting those pay raises.”
A woman’s choice of firm matters as well, says Sophia Ito, financial advisor at Nicola Wealth Management Ltd. in Vancouver, noting that the culture of a workplace can help or hinder women.
“Women, throughout the course of their career journey, may need to adjust the pace of their career growth temporarily, perhaps, and not all employers are supportive of that,” she says. “I also think there is a mentorship piece that’s important with respect to the growth and the continued success of any advisor, male or female, and that may or may not be present at all companies.”
Ms. Ito says that the “conscious inclusion” of women in advisory roles and across the workplace will be increasingly important as wealth transfers intergenerationally to more women.
“We need to have a very diverse skill set to be able to tackle many of the complex needs of those beneficiaries,” she says. “I also think it’s important to start sooner rather than later. … It takes time to build that team. It takes time to build that skill set [and] that perfect equation where you have a balance of all of the technical, relational, planning and educational skills.”
A paradigm shift in the investment industry
Maili Wong, executive vice-president, senior investment advisor and senior portfolio manager, director with Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. in Vancouver, says the industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift that’s starting to reward different attributes in wealth advisors and opening more paths to success for women.
“The old paradigm taught us that you had to be really aggressive to succeed in our industry: striving, competing, pushing, driving. These are a lot of the masculine skills I learned early in my career working in finance on Wall Street in New York as a trader,” she says. “That’s why I was so excited about [the Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors] ranking, which is more around client impact. This is the beginning of rewarding the right types of metrics.”
Ms. Wong says that even many of the men in her firm are interested in improving skills required for the new paradigm’s “feminine approach to wealth management.” These include connecting with people on an emotional level, showing vulnerability and demonstrating humility.
“Leveraging our feminine energy and strength to inspire the rest of the financial industry empowers us all to create more positive, exponential impact for our clients,” she says.