Skip to main content

You are here


Female Advisors Cite ‘Firm Culture’ as a Top Barrier to Success

Industry Trends and Research

A recent survey that looked at the experiences and perceptions of both women and men on the opportunities and challenges faced by female advisors in the financial services industry finds that female advisors confront different barriers to success than their male counterparts.  

While female advisors face many of the same challenges—growing a book of business, operational efficiency and dealing with clients’ emotional responses to the market, nearly 9 in 10 (88%) respondents indicated that women have additional barriers that men are less likely to confront. 

When survey respondents were asked what barriers female advisors face—giving them four choices and the option to add their own—the second-most common was “difficulty in finding a firm that’s a culture fit,” with nearly 70% of respondents considering this a primary barrier.

“It underscores the importance of firm culture as a critical factor in the success and fulfillment of all advisors, male and female,” according to the Carson Group’s first-ever State of Women in Wealth Management Report, which surveyed 335 financial advice professionals (79% female and 21% male).

The most-identified barrier was “balancing professional role with caregiving obligations,” with nearly 73% of respondents selecting it. Next came “difficulty in finding a mentor” (57%) and “challenges in prospecting for new clients” (25%).

These findings come as women currently make up more than half of the U.S. population, but less than a quarter of financial advisors are women, a figure which has remained largely flat for the last 10 years, according to the CFP Board. Also concerning, the Carson Group notes, is that nearly half (47%) of “other” write-in responses indicated that gender-based discrimination in the workplace is still a significant barrier for success in wealth management.

There’s some good news, however. Though the most common barriers are easily identifiable, female advisors trust firm leadership enough to share their concerns about these barriers, with 66% of respondents saying they feel comfortable sharing obstacles to success with firm leadership.

“If we want to see meaningful change in representation in the industry, we need to start solving for these barriers,” emphasizes Julie Ragatz, Ph.D., Vice President of Next Gen and Advisor Development Programs at Carson Group and co-author of the report. “We focus much of our energy on the recruitment of women, which is important too. But none of these barriers keep women out of the industry. They keep them from staying.”

Gender Biases and Compensation Models

Additional findings show that only 13% of female advisors believe that clients rarely take gender into account when selecting a financial advisor compared to 26% of male advisors. This has a direct impact on a woman's ability to grow her book of business, the report suggests.

In addition, 54% of female respondents “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with the statement, “financial advisors rarely take gender into account when seeking partners for joint work.”

Female advisors also indicate that as they age, they’re seeing unequal access to prospecting opportunities, with an increase in that perception happening in middle age (between 45 and 60) and continuing to decline beyond 60.

The Carson Group observes that neither gender, age nor industry experience was the “primary difference maker” when it came to the belief of a female advisor that she had equal opportunities for prospecting. Instead, what compensation model the female respondent worked within was the factor that best predicted her perception of equal opportunity.

Women working within a model where they earned based on assets under management were significantly more likely to agree that they had equal opportunity to prospecting than all other compensation models, the report notes. Salaried advisors, meanwhile, are the least likely to believe they’re getting a fair shake. That said, the interviewees also expressed a “strong aversion” to a commission-only compensation model and regarded it as a “significant barrier to entry of the profession.”

Recruitment and Retention

The report further suggests that there are several areas firms can focus on to improve representation.

To add women to the industry, recruitment often becomes the focus of change efforts, the report notes. In this case, the survey asked respondents how well they believe the industry is at attracting female students into financial advice as a profession. Only 16% of respondents agreed with this statement: “Industry organizations and firms effectively promote a career as a financial advisor as attractive to female students.” What’s more, roughly 53% of respondents flatly disagreed. Women, however, were significantly more pessimistic than men, with 57% strongly disagreeing or disagreeing with the statement above, whereas 39% of male respondents did.

“While getting women into financial advice roles is often the primary concern, the understanding of how to retain women in wealth management is just as important,” the report further states.

To that end, it notes that the barriers listed previously—work/ life balance, finding a mentor, finding a firm that’s a culture fit and discrimination—were not barriers to entering the profession, but rather to success for those who have already started their career. “Each of these barriers represents a factor that can increase retention risk,” the report emphasizes, adding that beyond these barriers, “a perception that women advance at a slower rate to their male counterparts also creates retention risk.”

When asked what they wanted from their firms to better support their success, fulfillment and willingness to stay in the profession, the six most common themes supplied (in order of frequency) were:

  • flexibility;
  • training and education support;
  • mentorship;
  • more women to leadership;
  • clear career pathing; and
  • zero tolerance policies on discrimination, harassment and assault.

“Women are looking for guidance in their careers and in their practices. In the interviews, most women talk about successes often brought about through male mentorship, including helping guide them through early career challenges, learning strategic networking, and introducing them to important connections,” the report further emphasizes.