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Don’t “Lean In” to Stereotypes, Just Be Yourself

Earlier this week, I attended a “Lean In” event led by Sheryl Sandberg, focused on “Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”.

Let me be honest, I don’t agree with everything in Sheryl’s book. I have worked with several incredible men, colleagues and mentors, many of whom I liked a lot more than their female counterparts. So, honestly, I walked in to the event with some skepticism.

Sheryl asked the predominantly female audience: “Were you called bossy as a kid? Or have you been told you are too aggressive at work?” Ninety percent of hands went up. “Did your brothers or male colleagues get the same reaction to similar behavior?” No hands. She went on to talk about ingrained stereotypes and just how hard they are to change.

And I had an “Aha!” moment. I have always loved to cook and garden – very feminine pursuits. But it is not until recently, with some success under my belt, that I have been comfortable talking about gardening and cooking for my family as my hobbies. In my twenties and thirties, I always stuck to “I like to read and travel.”

Have I been trying to be someone else all my professional life? Unconsciously adapting to a stereotype not just ingrained in society, but also in my own brain?

Meandering thoughts led me to think of the same phenomenon in our industry. We are an empathetic profession and, historically, women have been very good advisors. But only about 20% of all advisors, across wirehouses and independents, are women[i] – a woefully small number, especially because it so little reflects the industry’s current and future client base.

Have we disenfranchised women because they are expected to emulate male stereotypes that dominate this industry versus leaning on their innate strengths?

There is a great deal of wealth out there sitting in the hands of women who are already clients, or those who will be “next generation” clients. We need a sympathetic population of female advisors to appeal to them, something that is vitally important both when it comes to marketing, and to giving advice.

It is time the industry made some changes. It would be in everybody’s best interest. Not least because the profession is one to which women are so very well suited.

I am undoubtedly biased, but I sincerely believe that women bring an amazing smörgåsbord of qualities and skills to the world of wealth management. And I have to wonder how much more we could accomplish as an industry, and how much more we could do for our clients, if we could enable and empower more, and especially younger, women advisors…“to stop leaning in to stereotypes and instead start standing up for themselves by just being themselves”.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can seize and promote the opportunities for women in the world of independent wealth management.

But irrespective of who you are, take a moment to ask yourself: “What more would you do or not do if you were not sticking to a stereotype?”

[i] Single Women, Their Wealth and Women in Wealth Management. Information Asset Partners and Meridian-IQ 2013, Los Altos and Metuchen, USA

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