Do women feel they belong in the industry?

Financial advice needs to appeal to women and make them feel safe, otherwise there will be a struggle to attract talent and gender diversity in the industry, according to a panel.

Speaking at an Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) webinar, Angela Godfrey, director of Angela Godfrey and Associates Change Management, said it was important for firms to maintain strong culture to attract and retain talent.

This meant the industry faced the issue of how to encourage women to feel like they belong as part of the industry. Despite making up over half of the workforce in professional services, they only made up 20% of adviser roles.

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Some progress was being made to improve to opportunities and career prospects for women in planning, including the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) opening its mentoring program for women this week.

AFA Inspire committee member, Georgia Mara, said she joined the organisation to help support women in the industry.

“The reason I joined the AFA Inspire team was to help support women who have had experiences where they’ve not necessarily felt as though they have a sexual harassment claim to make but they’ve been made to feel ridiculed, isolated, uncomfortable within the workplace,” she said.

“For my experiences, I really internalised the messages I received throughout my career, specifically from certain men about the way that I look or the way I present myself.

“It has taken me a lot of time to rebuild a lot of confidence that was lost after some specific events.”

She said AFA Inspire built a community for women and men to talk anonymously about their experiences.

“It’s taken me years [to get over] and even today there will be moments where I get that feeling of imposter syndrome,” she said.

“Like I don’t deserve to be here, I’m not smart enough to be here because I’m just a blonde girl and I’m just here because someone wanted to look at me.

“That message that I heard years ago that I’m still that person and it takes a lot of time and a lot of self-reflection to get over that.

“At the time if I knew there was a channel I could go to, I would have felt a lot of safer and I would have the confidence to leave that workplace a hell of a lot earlier.”

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Making women feel welcome isn’t just “not subjecting them to abuse”. It’s also recognising that they still carry the greater load of parental responsibility. Offering unpaid or low paid internships immediately excludes those women who can’t afford to pay childcare rates while working for peanuts. It says that the organisation has not given thought to attracting female talent, or consideration of the most common issues affecting women going into the work force, especially career changes.

Making women welcome is bigger than just preventing them experiencing awful events once they’re in the space, it’s about acknowledging the barriers which prevent them even entering the space, and then working to remove them.

Unpaid internships are illegal in most circumstances, so I'd be wary of any firms offering such a thing.

Please go away with this nonesense. Women are seen as equals in this profession. Take your "feelings" and go write a sensible story.

Well said Wonder Dog.

Equality means being treated equal, not having some extra cushioning provided under your arse if you're getting the same blows that everyone else gets in our industry.

Anyone banging on about this sh!t is stuck in the eighties & ninieties and I would suggest has bigger personal issues that they need help on than the ones the industry throws at them.

Wonder Dog, as a woman, no they are not. Although its much better than it used to be. As a grad in the late 90s I was excluded from team lunches ("women don't come to those, its just us blokes"). I was told I needed to wear more makeup to look "even prettier", I was told to straighten my hair and wear it out as tied in a ponytail wasn't "pretty", denied a bonus even though I'd performed better on all agreed matrices than all the other guys on my team because (as the MD at the time said quote unquote) "I agree your performance has been better than theirs but they have families and you're married to someone on a good income, and any money you get paid reduces their bonuses which they need for their kids." Told him it was a flawed argument as all of the guys' wives all worked in decent paying full time jobs. He just shrugged and said I was getting nothing. Told me I'd never amount to anything and especially wasn't management material. I went home and cried all night. Lodged a complaint with HR next day who did nothing, they said "rocking the boat against the MD wasn't a good career move". I left there shortly afterwards. Like the other poster it's left scars. I too have imposter syndrome despite being highly qualified with demonstrated exceptional performance year in year out.

I could list so many more things but no room here for an essay. It's so hard being diplomatic when asked why I jumped around roles so early in my career. This was why. Isn't it funny how being considered "professional" in those days (and sometimes even now) was all about staying silent to protect those committing the harm? Speaking out meant breaking ranks and would have isolated you further. So we all stayed silent, you had no other option but to either cop it, or leave your job. Most did the latter.

I'm far from alone here in being horrifically treated. I stayed in the industry because I loved what I did, and did my best to effect positive change in my own small way with each jump in seniority and also mentor and support other women coming up the ranks, like the few women who existed in the industry at the time when I joined did for me. I'm glad this conversation is finally being held. It's long overdue.

Thank you for sharing your experiences "I'm with her." I agree, it is better than it used to be but we still have some way to go. It is important to have these conversations because it's not easy to speak up in fear of "rocking the boat," and we can't assume that women are not being overlooked or under-represented in financial services due to unconscious (or conscious) bias because not enough people are talking about it.

Thanks so much for sharing your story. Unfortunately related to a few of these comments! You are right this still exists now. Only 3 years ago I worked for a manager in a big 4 bank who told me I was not allowed to wear pants to the office as a female and need a spare of pantyhose in my desk at all times. Never once did she make a comment to my male counterparts.

News flash: it's 2021.

And the experiences of women are still being belittled and dismissed. Well done for proving the point.

Thanks WonderDog. This is the perfect illustration of how far we still need to go as an industry, unfortunately. And why women found it so hard to speak up in the first place. A better future is not built on the damaged foundations of the past. Knowing what those past experiences and circumstances were - and accepting they happened - is vital to ensuring they aren't replicated any further. This conversation is important. Yes, it's 2021. But if not now, when should it occur? Never is no longer an option within contemporary society, and certainly not an option in this industry if it has any wish to achieve recognition as a true profession in the community's eyes. The industry practices of the past are an inconvenient, uncomfortable and awkward truth for many. If you were part of those practices either directly or as a passive bystander, take personal accountability for that and choose to do better now.

Well said

I really do think we are making terrific strides. I really do. But to say it is currently an equal playing field is sadly far from true, partly because the attitudes fueling the outcomes I (and others) experienced are still lingering in the industry. And also it's purely because of the past. I can think of so many women I worked with early in my career who left the industry altogether or who moved away from the advice coalface due to the treatment they received. Or if they worked in a licensee, because of the treatment advisers gave them which management at the time turned a blind eye to as they were 'top performing' (read: top product placing) advisers. Free flowing booze was at regular thing at PD Days/PD lunches till GFC time. Was such fun being a young female presenting after lunch to a roomful of smashed advisers old enough to be your dad/grandpa heckling you. I experienced it myself; and observed other women regularly treated this way too. You put up with it to keep your job. I complained, nobody did a thing. I did get a few verbal shows of support when this happened, all from men, but in the end nothing was done. Their mates/revenue producers may get upset.

Then also being exposed to more subtle demeaning and discriminatory behaviours - such as there being a few more junior guys than you in a team meeting yet being the only one ever asked to run down and get coffees for everyone after the meeting had started. I got a verbal warning the day I politely pointed out that it would be "wonderful if someone else at the table took on the task besides me so I could take part in the meeting itself". My Principal told me afterwards that women get the coffees and if I didn't like it I could leave. Again, another role I left. None of that behaviour would be OK now, yet as so few women (relatively speaking) remain in the industry breaking through will take time. You can't become what you cannot see.

You will hear it said over and over "if there was a talented woman who was better than a man, of course they'd be hired, why would you not" as an explanation for the gender issue being a myth. Here's the thing: I was often asked if I was planning on having a family. Or it was assumed I would. I know many women this happened to. Men didn't want to hire you in case you decided to go on mat leave, or perhaps may request flexible working arrangements. I had an interview once where a hiring manager said to me "you seem ok but if I take you on, you'll just go and have babies and not return". My response was"one, you don't know that; two, it's illegal to have this conversation and three; why did you even want to interview me, my name is very obviously a female one". He said he needed to look like he was interviewing evenly across genders. What do you say to that? That person has retired now but was in a very senior and high profile advice management role then. Telling him to go shove it wasn't an option. I just quietly said I had to leave and thanked him for his time. Recruiters who operated in those days can absolutely vouch for this behaviour.

And the old chestnut that actually seemed to hit all youngsters evenly (men or women) - "if we train you, you will leave". We left the jobs anyway. But, with that extra baggage women faced in the industry that I mentioned above, many just exited.

So, several examples of direct or indirect bias that's prevented some terrific female advice talent climbing the ranks and no doubt played a part in why we lag behind numbers-wise even now.

Like I said. Progress is happening. But. Those who say equality already exists really need to chat with their team members and other female colleagues for a reality check. Or, they're in denial and need to reflect and accept the part they may have played in those days that contributed to the gender bias, and vow to do better now.

Thank you I'm with her for taking the time to share your experiences. I'm glad that you have persisted, and hope that your effort along with those of others will make it just that bit easier for those who follow.

That's lovely of you to say. Thank you Michael. It was far from easy and I wanted to give up many, many times. Speaking with younger team members, they tell me it's already quite different now from their perspective too. I'm very glad about that. I hope the positive progress continues so the gender issue in the industry becomes an historical relic. I keep the faith it will. We all have our own part to play to achieve this goal, though. All current industry participants have a shared responsibility to create a better experience for all those who come afterwards.

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