It is a well-known fact that financial advice, and finance in general, has the perception of being a male-dominated profession.
Reflected on TV and movies is the image of shouting male brokers on a trading floor or a middle-aged white male in an office, making it understandable if women do not see themselves represented in the industry.
But that is not entirely accurate as data from the Government’s Labour Market Information Portal shows financial and insurance services has a broadly even gender representation with 49.9% men and 50.1% women and an average age of 40.
However, this fell to 31% female share when considering financial investment advisers and managers which was the second most popular profession in the sector.
The gender pay gap in finance and insurance services had also been rising to 24.1%, up from 22.6% in 2020, based on full-time weekly earnings as women tended to be working in support roles.
Marisa Broome, Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) chair, admitted the increase in compliance and regulation had made financial planning less flexible than in the past.
This was a possible reason that women tended to be working in support roles rather than as front-line financial planners. However, she hoped this trend was reversing, particularly as many firms had adjusted to remote or flexible working since the pandemic.
“There are too few female front-line staff, they are still in critical roles like HR or paraplanning but they get less recognition, and the lack of flexibility is one reason for that,” she said.
“My youngest was six months old when I started, I knew I wanted to be a financial planner and work with clients rather than be in a support role and the job could be very flexible. There isn’t as much flexibility anymore but I think this is a moment in time and a speed hump from the regulatory change but hopefully we will go back to being flexible again.”
In a bid to counter this reputation, firms and organisations are taking it upon themselves to make it a female-friendly working environment, such as offering mentoring and paid leave, as well as setting up initiatives to recruit a diverse workforce.
Jodie Blackledge, chief executive at Fitzpatricks Group, said: “We have a lead adviser program which is a coaching program where they work with an existing adviser and they stay in touch with them as they build their business.
“Our firm is set up on the principle of 4/40 which is working four days a week for 40 weeks of the year. That is the aspiration and presents a good opportunity for women, it takes time to build that but it can be done.”
Fitzpatricks also had a female peer group, known as ‘Fitzpatricias’ which had helped the business to develop a female adviser cohort.
“Female advisers can be very innovative in their value proposition and focus on a tight segment such as divorce or death, those transition points in people’s life. Some people prefer a female adviser in the same way that some prefer a female GP,” Blackledge said.
“We have a group of 10 women who are running their own businesses and they support each other, encourage purpose, growth and collaboration through sharing ideas and inspiration.”
Ashleigh Crittle, chief operating officer at Jana, said: “We have doubled paid leave for secondary carers which is usually the men so they can take four weeks paternity leave which sets good standards early on.
“Paid parental leave is available to either parent so we are seeing men take three months when the baby is nine months and the mum goes back to work. This creates a ripple effect and becomes the norm.”
When it came to recruitment, Crittle said firms would need to be patient if they were taking diversity seriously and consider other options beyond the traditional recruitment route.
“If you are genuinely committed to diversity then you have to be patient, appointments must be merit-based so it can take a long time to find the right candidate. Use multiple recruitment channels and advertise in targeted areas such as the Women in Super job board,” she said.
“Look at the language you are using in the advert, is it gender neutral? Is the recruitment panel diverse, is it representing diversity at the firm?
“Lastly, women interview differently to men so be conscious if they are underselling themselves during the interview; they often apply for roles where they only meet every criteria whereas men will apply if they only meet a few of them.”
Meanwhile, industry super fund HESTA had collaborated with social enterprise program, Girls of Impact, to encourage women to consider a career in finance and highlight career opportunities in areas such as risk and compliance and investments.
It was also piloting a Returnship Program to encourage experienced, mature-age workers to retrain and return to the workforce and had partnered with Future IM/PACT to attract more diverse talent into investment teams.
HESTA chief experience officer, Lisa Samuels, said: “Financial services can offer a wonderfully rewarding career. We want to share the experiences and cutting-edge work our people are doing every day that simply wouldn’t be available in other industries.
“We strongly believe that more diverse and inclusive teams have better decision making, which can lead to stronger long-term performance.”
Girls of Impact chief executive, Kate Bushell, added: “We need more women in decision-making roles, especially in financial services, where investment decisions can impact people’s financial futures and the Australian economy.
“The superannuation industry is a great career pathway for young women to explore as they can be and invest in supporting positive change in our world.”
Before firms could hire, however, it was necessary for them to attract the talent in the first place and promote financial planning as a viable profession to begin a career.
According to the FPA, some 66% of its student members were female compared to 36% of total FPA members which indicated there was a burgeoning interest in the profession.
While some students studied degrees which included financial planning elements, it appeared it was harder to attract students from general business or finance degrees, often because they were unfamiliar with the career.
Camilla Love, managing director of eInvest and founder of F3 Future Females in Finance, said: “There is a lot of competition for talent from firms like pharmacy and technology, graduates are only aware of accountancy and investment banking but finance is bigger than that. Lots of smaller wealth management or financial planning firms don’t have the money for graduate recruitment”.
According to data from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), new graduates from its business degrees had ended up in roles included operations consulting at Deloitte, investment banking analyst at UBS and assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) rather than financial advice or investment management.
Thuy To, senior lecturer in the School of Banking and Finance at UNSW Business School, said: “On average, over the last five years, for domestic students, only around 41% are female whereas that ratio for international students is 57%. Finance courses experience significantly more severe gender imbalances. Female students account for only a third of total enrolment in our finance undergraduate courses. “We are very concerned with this gender imbalance. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is a lack of understanding on what finance is and what type of career a finance graduate can take. Too many students we ask, their impression of finance is just ‘money’ and therefore that wrongly implies a less interesting career.”
She suggested firms have graduate recruitment programmes, better connections with universities such as being guest speakers or attending career fairs and offer mentoring and internship schemes.
In light of this, Love’s organisation, had set up a program with the UNSW Business School to provide work experience in financial services for its female students and “break down the network” which was holding women back.
“F3 is an online project set up for six weeks in groups of five, they work with a financial services business and are given a project and mentor from the business and have to come up with a solution. It’s about 50 hours over six weeks for the students and about nine to 15 hours for the mentors,” Love said.
“This is a way to nudge girls into finance and give them real-life work experience, it gives them insight into what makes the industry tick and ‘hooks’ them at an early stage. Girls can often feel unsupported in all-male teams so this is a safe environment for them.”
The organisation had partnered with firms including Jana, Natixis Investment Managers, Daintree Capital and Dimensional.
Crittle said: “The investment industry is losing women to investment banking and accountancy because those who are better at recruiting are more desirable employers and offer more flexible opportunities.
“We had expected F3 to be a long-term initiative as we weren’t seeing enough women in our pipeline but in our first year, we hired three female graduates from the project.”
A second initiative was the $1.5 million FPA female scholarship scheme which included programs with Deakin University, Futurity Investment Group, CA ANZ Mentor Exchange Program and Kaplan Professional.
The grant had been awarded to manage and deliver a scholarship program funded by the Australian Government for women in finance and economics, which was part of the
Women’s Leadership and Development Plan with support from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women.
Broome said the scholarship had taken on “a life of its own” since the launch announcement in June.
“The scholarship programme has developed a life of its own since the launch, it is starting to snowball because so many firms are getting involved, it isn’t just us who can see this opportunity.
“We have staff who are involved in the university sector and have student members so we were the right fit to put the scholarship to work. We expected to get $300,000 and we ended up receiving $1.5 million.”
Kaplan Professional received $85,000 in the scheme to fund 10 scholarships which would cover the tuition fees of any four subjects in Kaplan Professional’s Master of Financial Planning. Chief executive, Brian Knight, said it would continue to offer the scholarship even once the FPA grant was complete.
“This is something we have been focusing on for the last 12 months, 40% of our students have been female so we are getting traction and it would be good to get to 50%.
Anything that talks about finance as a career option is important to raise awareness,” he said.
“We will continue to offer the female scholarships as we are looking to increase diversity and have had a really good response.
“It hasn’t been an attractive career for females but they are good at building relationships and empathy, they can really contribute and the industry needs that representation.”
A WORTHY PROFESSION
Blackledge highlighted an appeal of the financial planning profession was that many advisers were self-employed which was an option unavailable in many other finance roles.
“One benefit of financial planning industry which would be attractive to graduates is most advisers are self-employed so there is a good opportunity for people to set up their own business in a way you can’t do with investment banking for example. I think more needs to be made of that fact,” she said.
“It is imperative that we are seen as a profession and have that understanding. There is a lot more the industry needs to do to encourage graduates to consider financial planning and we need to think about how we can best explain it to them.”
Regardless of the hurdles, all commentators agreed financial advice was a worthy profession to consider and said women could stand out by offering different skills to men.
“Gender diversity brings better decision making and performance. We need greater representation of women at all levels of business. We look after people’s wealth and the financial future of Australia so it’s important we should be able to make the best decisions we can,” Crittle concluded.