How to Be an Active Ally to Women in Financial Services
It’s one thing to call yourself an ally, and another to do the work.
A financial advisor friend of mine--a white man--asked me for advice. He recently had met a talented woman trying to get into the wealth management business. He recognized her potential and wanted to help her succeed. He asked me for suggestions on how to help. Our text exchange:
Me: “You play golf, right? I know this seems unrelated, but trust me.”
Him: “I do play golf. Not well, but I enjoy it.”
Me: “Imagine you are golfing with a friend, and another two guys joined your group to make four. You get chatting with one of the guys and hit it off. He wants to get into our industry. What would you do to help him?”
Him: “Make introductions he wanted from my network. Be available to help him prep for interviews. Offer context and guidance on offer letters and compensation negotiations.”
Me: “That is essentially what I was going to suggest.”
Succeeding in financial services takes skills, knowledge, and a network. In the same way you can offer access to those things for men, do it for women.
This advice isn’t just relevant to job-seekers; imagine that you find out a woman colleague is being undercompensated or discriminated against, imagine what you would do to help your golf friend in that situation, then do it.
An ally is someone supportive of groups to which they do not belong. It’s one thing to call yourself an ally, and another to do the work. Most real, active allyship action happens quietly and in the background.
My wish for women’s history month--and always--is that men in finance step up and commit to active allyship. A recent study found that women represent only 18.1% of U.S. financial advisors. How can we close the gap? This is not a “women’s” problem. We can’t expect the people most affected by sexism and discrimination to be the ones to solve it (though we sure are trying). Men, if financial services is to grow out of the lopsided and inequitable state we are in, the ball is in your court.
Here are some ways to be an active ally, which I’ll break down into two main categories:
People in your network trust and respect you. Some of that trust is because of your experience and good work; some of that trust is because you look the part; the latter half of the equation is especially true for white men. Transfer the trust people have in you by making introductions. In addition to introductions for jobs, make introductions to journalists, suggest women as speakers or podcast guests, or share their original work-- articles, podcasts, research papers--to a wider audience with your endorsement.
I wish that an introduction from a white man didn’t carry disproportionate weight, but that is the reality of the world we operate in, so use that privilege to the advantage of the people you can help.
This may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: If an employee who reports to you tells you about harassment, discrimination or assault, listen to her and take her claim seriously. If a woman colleague or friend tells you of harassment or discrimination, believe her. If the issue is current and she is considering reporting to HR or other authorities, ask how you can best support her.
Step in when you see bad behavior. If you see someone being harassed, step in immediately and say, “We don’t do that here.”
Tell us how to get on the boss’ good side, which conference to go to and who to listen to there, which office issues are political land mines to be navigated carefully, which service providers go the extra mile, and which journalist will bait you into saying something inflammatory. Mistakes are more costly to women; please share your learning so we can avoid the pitfalls.
If you are a man and have a woman (especially a woman of color) counterpart in a similar role, offer to chat about compensation packages, including all benefits, to make sure she is earning the same as you are.
The same goes for service contracts. If you review service contracts and see that a woman is asking for less money than you pay a man for a similar service, let her know that she is undervaluing her services and tell her the market range she should be charging.
You can also share your compensation details with women who are not direct counterparts so they know what the pay range is for a qualified man and can ask for the same. I have had two male mentors, to whom I will be forever grateful because they did this for me, and I earned significantly more because of our explicit conversations about money. One mentor told me, “I want to make sure you are paid like a white guy.” Be that guy!
Be the mentor. Be the sponsor. (Don’t know the difference? Listen to this episode of 2050 Trailblazers with Carla Harris.)
Men, when you meet a woman who needs guidance to level up in her career, if you have that expertise, be her mentor. Please, don’t just introduce her to the women you know and expect them to mentor her. Of course she can have women mentors, but that is not enough. It’s men who have most of the power in this business, and she’ll need you and other men in her corner if she is going to succeed.
As an aside, expecting women to do all of the mentoring is asking those colleagues most affected by systemic sexism to fix the problem they did not create nor benefit from. You are adding extra, unpaid work to someone who is statistically likely to be underpaid and overworked compared with her white male peers.
Standing up for or against something publicly, or internally at a company, comes with risks of a cost to you. The highest risk to you is often an occasion when your allyship is most needed--likely taking a stand for someone who cannot because of power dynamics.
This can potentially be costly in the short term, possibly alienating peers or angering bosses. The cost to you is likely much lower than it would be for the woman you are speaking up for, and we need you to take a stand against discrimination, harassment, and inequity, because men listen to other men. Your voice can make a difference, and we need it.
Last, this is not about getting credit or blame. In financial services, white men are almost always the center of any conversation. CEOs look like you, marketing programs are aimed at you, job paths are built by and for people like you. Suddenly not being the center of a conversation may be an unusual feeling. Acknowledge that feeling and keep going. Show up for women and people of color because it is good for the community, our industry, and the people your allyship can help. Remember, allyship is not a zero-sum game. Your active allyship will likely expand your own network and benefit the larger professional community.
Sonya Dreizler is a speaker, author and consultant focused on fostering candid conversations about gender and race in financial services. She is also a subject matter expert in ESG and responsible investing, and a former chief executive officer for an independent broker-dealer/registered investment advisor. The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Morningstar.