Female representation in advice still ‘disappointing’

Lack of improvement in the number of women in financial advice roles over the last three years is ‘unfortunate’ and is hampering industry growth, a range of industry voices have said. 

Speaking at the Stella Network Women in Advice event last week, co-founder and head of Stella, Julia Newbould, expressed disappointment at the poor improvement of gender diversity in the financial advice workplace.

“When Stella began back in 2013 females accounted for around 20 per cent of the advice industry. It has remained unfortunately largely the same.”

“With only around 10 per cent of Australians seeking financial advice, diversity is key to reducing this gap,” Ms Newbould said.

Also speaking at the event, former chief executive of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) Pauline Vamos said the tendency of women to have inherent soft skills makes them good leaders and strong financial advisers.

“It’s much easier for women to be human centred leaders. They have innate soft skills and adopt coaching abilities easily. The great thing is that these skills are becoming the minimum requirement for business leadership roles now. It is recognised now that a poor leader operates through ‘command and control’, which from my experience has been a very male-dominated technique of leading,” Ms Vamos said.

Recent research supports the notion that the financial services industry is being restricted by its lack of women in executive roles, while some reports confirm that gender-diverse companies perform better economically.

Despite movements made by players in the sector towards gender equality, financial adviser at Thompson Financial Services Phil Thompson believes misogyny and sexism are alive and well.

In a blog post late last year, Mr Thompson referenced conversations had with fellow male advisers in which a disliking was expressed toward the idea of a ‘Female Excellence in Advice’ award, while the level of attacks experienced by former president of the AFA Deborah Kent would not have been received by a male president, Mr Thompson said.

AMP Capital’s 2016 Gender Diversity Report also revealed troubling examples of inherent sexist mindsets among executives in the finance sector.

The report found that, when asked why they don’t appoint more women to their boards, company chairmen gave responses such as: “Women ask too many questions", "The board meetings will go too long”, “They’re different, it would spoil the harmony of the board”, “We hire on merit only; and besides we haven’t appointed any gays, blacks, Asians or transvestites either”.

Speaking to ifa, Mr Thompson said it is important for more men to speak up on the issue.

“How can we ever hope to effect change on gender diversity when the majority of our profession aren't speaking up, or worse, feel they have no right or it isn't their place to speak up?

“If we hear, see or say something that can be viewed as sexist, we should call it out in a respectful, non-judgemental way. If you find yourself guilty of a sexism, do this funny thing that seems quite rare these days and apologise. I know some people will call this political correctness gone mad, but I would argue it is simply displaying that basic human emotion called empathy.”

Ms Newbould also called for increased support from members of the sector.

“We’d like everyone in financial planning supporting women and diversity in the industry," she said.

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