Coalface: Recruiting the best women for the job

Michelle Andrews – Illustration by Dan Murrell

Is it the lack of women in financial services that is the issue, or is it the lack of women in key roles such as financial planning? I’d say it’s the latter.

Recent statistics suggest that 40% of the sector is female. However, the number of female financial planners and women in more senior roles is still stubbornly low.

There are some clear structural issues at play here that feed into why there continues to be a dearth of female financial planners. These structural issues can feed into perceptions that dampen ambition or, worse, put women off the industry altogether.

When we recruit, we do not focus on years of experience

Research from our behavioral consultancy team recently found that 77% of female paraplanners did not want to become financial advisers, compared with just 38% of male paraplanners.

While paraplanning in its own right adds immense value as a profession, it is disappointing that there is such a huge gulf between the ambitions of each gender when it comes to moving into financial advice.

To illustrate the point, we have been in recruitment mode for most of this year, looking for both experienced and new financial planners. Of the four paraplanners eager to move into financial planning, three have been male. Yet some of our most shining stars are females.

There are real consequences for our profession if we get this wrong

The research also found that female paraplanners who had been in their role for three years or fewer and had or were in the process of obtaining QCF Level 4 were still much less likely to want to become an adviser than men in the same boat. This is worrying because it illustrates that, even when women are attracted into the industry, the decision to become an adviser is not yet a natural progression.

The really frustrating thing is that this creates a vicious cycle. Women see few visible role models in the profession as they are under-represented at this level and so are less likely to pursue a career in the sector.

Female financial leaders

While we are not perfect at Quilter, within Quilter Private Client Advisers I have sought to create some of that role modeling. The immediate leadership team is 70% female, and a quarter of our financial planners are too. The national average ranges between 14% and 22% depending on which report you read, so there is still a way to go until we reach parity.

The key to finding and retaining the best talent is to help people feel like they belong

This is not just a numbers game, though. It is about removing the barriers that are currently holding back a vast amount of talent from either pushing on in the advice profession or joining it at all. I’ve been in financial services for a long time and have seen huge progress, especially over the past few years, but there is more to do.

There are times when I have found it tough. I’m a mother of three, juggling the demands of family and work. Like many working women, I have wondered when you fit in that ‘me time’ that we read about. But I’ve learned that, if I don’t role model, who will? And if I do then others will too, and gradually we will see things change.

For me, it’s not about ‘having it all’. It’s about striking the right balance, making choices and being proud of them. And at the heart of that is inclusivity. Being comfortable to be me.

The trainees we are bringing in have got the job because they have the intellect to do it, not because they have the best degree

An inclusive culture, rather than diversity itself, can really change advice for the better.

If our focus is on finding the very best talent, the person that adds the slightly different style or thinking rather than what our profession typically expects, we will surprise ourselves on the upside.

Female recruitment experience

That’s why, when we recruit, we do not focus on years of experience. Study after study shows that, broadly, men are more likely to apply for roles for which they do not have adequate experience, whereas women generally will not. I never have.

So, the trainees that we are now bringing in have got the job because they have the intellect to do it, because they have shown adaptability and empathy, not because they have the best degree.

The key to finding and retaining the best talent, I believe, is to help people feel like they belong. It’s only then that we can make the best of the differences people bring.

These structural issues can feed into perceptions that dampen ambition or, worse, put women off the industry altogether

While inclusion is something that is felt, belonging is something we, as leaders, must enable by engaging with people and helping them become part of something.

There are real consequences for our profession if we get this wrong. But, if we get it right, if we individually and collectively tackle the structural and cultural issues that are inhibiting a diverse pool of talent from coming through, I believe this will also make advice more accessible and more appealing to the people who need it most .

Michelle Andrews is managing director at Quilter Cheviot


This article featured in the July 2022 edition of MM.

If you would like to subscribe to the monthly magazine, please click here.

Leave a Comment