The financial planning industry has an issue with gender diversity. About 20% of Australian advisers are women and the fact of the matter is that some leaders get why this needs to change, while others just don’t.
Regardless of where you sit on the subject, the argument for improving gender diversity and inclusion is a timely one given that the Royal Commission is forcing the finance industry to look at reforms and culture.
Trust has been shaken once again and there’s a greater need to find new ways to engage with clients and develop deeper interpersonal relationships than ever before.
Dr Heidi Sundin founder of the Agenda Agency works with businesses in providing transformational strategies in gender equality. She says key to improving diversity is understanding where you are now and what the key issues are, developing a gender strategy and taking action.
“Too many businesses miss the mark on gender equality because they jump straight into a series of unaligned and unrelated initiatives, which can lead to a lot of activity but little impact. It’s important to be strategic in how you address the specific gender related issues in your organisation.”
“For firms in the financial planning industry some things we would like to see are targets around the representation of women in leadership and in recruitment and promotion rates,” says Dr Sundin.
A growing body of research supports the view that gender diversity improves company and staff performance and ultimately profitability.
Dr Sundin says gender equality shouldn’t be a side-line business issue; rather it should be built in tandem with a business strategy and achieving key performance objectives.
“It’s a bit like a crash diet, like hitting a number rather than creating the transformational change in the culture. A long-term strategy needs to be in place to shift underlying attitudes about women in leadership.
“I believe the ultimate goal is 40/40/20, so 40% men and 40% women and then flexibility on the remaining 20%.”
Here’s a breakdown of the three key things that Dr Sundin recommends businesses do to help improve gender diversity.
Conduct a business review: Before you even get to fix or transform a business, it’s important to know what the issues are.
As you start on the gender equality journey, it’s important to know what the specific gender issues are in your business and industry.
Dr Sundin says the first step involves undertaking a review of where the business is at now.
“Different organisations will have different issues, so it’s critical to know what you’re solving for.”
A review of your organisation should cover:
“A review should also identify where are the blockages are for women in the leadership pipeline.”
For more advanced organisations reviews also to look at putting a gender lens over procurement processes, client management, and broader influence in the industry.
Strategy: The next thing to do is build a strategy.
Once you have done that the next thing to do is build a strategy and stick to it.
“The gender strategy needs to be aligned to what the business is trying to achieve.
“We don’t just work on gender equality, but we look at the direction of the business.
“While a strategy for a financial planning organisation needs to be tailored, there are issues around workplace flexibility and supporting primary caring responsibilities because that is why we tend to see a drop off in the number for women in the finance sector more broadly.
“These organisations should be setting targets around women in leadership, and it’s likely that their strategies will focus on changing mind-sets around flexibility; inclusive leadership; high potentials programs; and mentoring and sponsorship of women.
“I think what is also needed are more creative options such as bringing more senior and accomplished women back into senior positions; and making financial planning a career that is attractive for women.”
Action: Critical to any strategy is ensuring that the leadership team takes a role in supporting that strategy and targets.
Dr Sundin says that creating a business strategy is not about developing a document that sits in the bottom draw of an office. The CEO must take action and lead by example.
“Economic security and financial literacy for women are key elements of gender equality in our society. Having access to more women as trusted advisors in the financial services may lead to more women taking ownership of their financial futures.”
She adds that while some business leaders understand the benefits of a gender diverse and inclusive workplace, others do not and may need to see further evidence of the benefits to the company’s bottom line.
To overcome this as a barrier the actions that can be taken include initiating grassroots workplace conversations around gender diversity and suggesting solutions and changes to the leadership team. Ultimately if no one is concerned about the need to improve gender diversity in a workplace, change is unlikely to happen. But in the current environment that could impact culture, staff and client retention and performance.
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