With consolidation in the financial services and the increased costs from regulation and technological innovation, a young advisor today might wonder if there’s anywhere to start out other than at the big banks.

In contrast, when Marie DeLauretis launched her career almost 20 years ago, she wondered if there was anywhere to start at all. She’s a financial planner and principal at DeLauretis Wealth Management in Calgary.

“There was unequal opportunity,” she says, as well as unequal pay. At her firm, “the guys were financial advisors and the women weren’t.”

Nor were women encouraged to pursue industry designations. When it became clear she wouldn’t become an advisor at the firm, “I left and branched out on my own and became an independent at the end of 2006,” she says.

DeLauretis notes that in about 2010, the industry started recognizing the value of women advisors.

Around that time, there was a push to have women in the office to serve female clients and attract new ones, “because women were relating to women,” she says.

Shared experiences and changing demographics are likely part of the reason.

“We are major financial decision-makers and widows,” says DeLauretis, referring to women generally. “We manage a lot more money than we ever have.” Further, independent single women often choose female money managers, car salespeople and realtors, she says.

Rhonda Sherwood, advisor at Raymond James in Vancouver, says that, today, there remains a lack of female independent financial advisors. Despite her civic work over the years, she says it’s surprising that “in my own industry a lack of diversity exists at all levels—gender, age, race.”

Of all advisors surveyed for Investment Executive‘s 2017 Report Card series (1,753 Canadian advisors), fewer than 22% were female, and more than 45% of those female respondents said they worked at the banks.

DeLauretis says that when she’s looking for industry partners, she seeks out other professional women, some just starting out. For example, she proactively approached a young female realtor to add to her referral sources.

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“If I can give a helping hand to a female, I always do,” says DeLauretis, adding that trustworthiness is her number-one criterion.

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Progress for female clients

Perhaps greater visibility of women in financial services will help increase financial confidence among women clients.

As it stands, studies and polls continually indicate that women self-report poor financial literacy—though the disparity between women and men could be the result of men’s overconfidence, as shown in some academic research.

Read: Women’s financial goals more modest than men’s: report

“Why are we being compared to men all the time?” asks Betty-Anne Howard, financial planner at Making Dreams a Reality and Investment Planning Counsel, in Kingston, Ont. She notes that studies don’t tend to be interpreted negatively for men, even though it would often be equally valid to do so.

Further, “in financial services, we have failed women,” she says. That’s because, psychologically, “women need to see the practical application of information,” she says. Yet, financial literature often doesn’t offer that.

From client experience, DeLauretis says she doesn’t see much difference in financial literacy between women and men, especially among younger clients.

However, women tend to carefully weigh information before making a decision. “I get more questions from females regarding specific investments […] than I do from men,” says DeLauretis. Once they have all the information, decisions get made quickly, she adds.

How advisors are marking International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated today, puts the spotlight on gender parity.

DeLauretis is taking the day off to meet other industry women for coffee, including another financial planner, a CFA and an entrepreneur.

Camilla Sutton, president and CEO of Woman in Capital Markets in Toronto, says she celebrates women’s achievements today, but it’s also a time for reflection.

“Not only do we still have a lot of work to do, but the pace of change needs to accelerate,” says Sutton.

As of the 2017 proxy season, the average percentage of female board members on S&P/TSX 60 companies was 26%. That compares to 23% in 2015 and 24% in 2016, reports Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt.

Read: How boards are faring under regulator’s diversity imperative

Sutton says the equality conversation should extend to gender more broadly, and not focus exclusively on women. “Most men I know are just as eager as the women I know to see gender diversity progress,” she says.

The keys to change “revolve around culture, management styles and corporate transparency,” she says. “Leaders can drive change by attacking each one of these thoughtfully and purposefully.” For example, “We applaud work around pay transparency that we are seeing at both the provincial and federal levels,” she says.

Sherwood promotes women’s participation in civic life through membership on the Vancouver women’s advisory committee, which helped create a recently approved women’s equity strategy for the city.

For International Women’s Day, Sherwood will attend the Vancouver mayor’s proclamation of the day and the unveiling of the Helena Gutteridge Plaza. Gutteridge was the first female city councillor in Vancouver.

Sherwood returns to city hall Friday for the city’s signing of the Face of Leadership Diversity Pledge, which indicates a commitment to gender diversity in corporate leadership. The pledge initiative was launched in 2015 by the Minerva Foundation for B.C. Women.

Howard has marked the day since the 1980s by organizing events, participating in marches, fundraising and closing her office.

This year, however, she wants to focus on accountability and outcomes. She’s asking her partners what they’re doing “to make a difference in the lives of women and girls,” she says. She plans to extend the accountability question to her business suppliers.

She also says industry leaders who embrace diversity should publicly communicate their policies to do so.

For advisors looking to support change, Howard suggests they have meaningful advisor-client conversations about philanthropic goals—something that’s lacking in the industry. “Making money and making a difference can be combined,” she says.

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