Across the financial services industry, women are commanding a greater role in key decisionmaking. Where do today’s recordkeepers stand in that context? What are today's trends, and where is the industry headed tomorrow?
Two women of influence explored those questions at an Oct. 22 workshop session at ASPPA’s Annual Conference: Shelia Reed, Chief Marketing Officer at Aspire Financial Services and Kara Ardis, Director of Business Strategy, Retirement Plan Sevices, at Charles Schwab.
“Why are we having this discussion?” Reed asked as an introduction. She cited several recent studies that point to progress in achieving a greater role for women in the industry – but also a persistent pay differential. On the downside, she cited InvestmentNews data indicating that only 2% of the $12 trillion currently in mutual funds is managed by women. However, other studies show that 20.8% of board seats at public companies are held by women, and 19.8% of Director and C-Suite positions are held by women. Both show that “women are making strides,” Reed said. However, “there is still a difference in terms of wages,” she noted, citing a study showing that women in the financial industry earn $0.80 for every $1.00 earned by their male counterparts.
One barrier for entry-level women, Ardis said, is a lack of support from managers and senior leaders compared to men. In fact, McKinsey’s 2017 “Women in the Workplace” study showed a fairly consistent gap of about 15% between how male and female entry-level staff answered questions about the support they were getting from their managers or senior leaders in areas like advancement advice and identifying opportunities for advancement, advocating for specific opportunities and providing advice on how to navigate organizational politics.
And yet, said Reed, the multifacted financial services industry “offers every single career track anyone could want to choose – every skill set can be accommodated,” from call center to corporate administration. In that context, the financial services industry overall “is one of the top three industries,” she said. And in the recordkeeping industry specifically, 30% of the decisionmakers are now women – a significant sign of the progress that has been made.
One significant key to maintaining that progress is to understand that “when diversity is added to a decision or a process, the outcome improves,” Reed asserted. Ardis noted that it’s important for recordkeepers to think about and plan for where women in general are now in terms of financial planning and how their role as investors will change, calling that perspective “a new lens on our clients.” Specifically, she noted that:
- By 2030, two-thirds of Americans’ wealth will be controlled by women.
- Traditional financial services experiences don’t resonate with women.
- A diverse workforce “allows us to evolve our experiences” to reach women more effectively.
So for women in the recordkeeping industry, what actions can they take? “Be the solution,” Reed and Ardis urged, specifically:
- Stop being defensive about what they offer and their role in the organization.
- See the abundance of opportunities that exist in the industry.
- Build a strong network of mentors – “both above and below,” Reed said, i.e., both for you and by you, helping young women new to the industry.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks – early and often.
- Know, perform and communicate your value to the organization.
- Connect with other women, via groups like the Women in Pensions Network or attending ASPPA’s Women in Retirement conference.
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