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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Women Supporting Each Other at Work

When we were putting Equita together Katie Burke and I reached out to other women financial planners to find out what they would value most in a business platform. By far, the number one resource women wanted was a collaborative network of other women financial planners. They wanted peers to reach out to for business and client solutions, sharing best practices, support and encouragement. So we made sure a Mastermind group was one of the resources Equita provides all Member Firms.

We just came across this article by Anne Welsh McNulty in HBR.org that speaks to the value and the benefit having a network of women provides. Not only does a network provide support and connection, but it has tremendous affects on success in business. We’re excited HBR.org sees the benefits we do in bringing a group of women together.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Women Supporting Each Other at Work

Don’t underestimate the power of women connecting and supporting each other at work. As my experiences from being a rookie accountant to a managing director at an investment bank have taught me, conversations between women have massive benefits for the individual and the organization. When I graduated college in the 1970s, I believed that women would quickly achieve parity at all levels of professional life now that we had “arrived” — I viewed the lack of women at the top as more of a “pipeline” problem, not a cultural one. But the support I expected to find from female colleagues — the feeling of sisterhood in this mission — rarely survived first contact within the workplace.

When I was a first-year accountant at a Big Eight firm (now the Big Four), I kept asking the only woman senior to me to go to lunch, until finally she told me, “Look, there’s only room for one female partner here. You and I are not going to be friends.” Unfortunately, she was acting rationally. Senior-level women who champion younger women even today are more likely to get negative performance reviews, according to a 2016 study in The Academy of Management Journal.

My brusque colleague’s behavior has a (misogynistic) academic name: the “Queen Bee” phenomenon. Some senior-level women distance themselves from junior women, perhaps to be more accepted by their male peers. As a study published in The Leadership Quarterly concludes, this is a response to inequality at the top, not the cause. Trying to separate oneself from a marginalized group is, sadly, a strategy that’s frequently employed. It’s easy to believe that there’s limited space for people who look like you at the top when you can see it with your own eyes.

By contrast, men are 46% more likely to have a higher-ranking advocate in the office, according to economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett. This makes an increasing difference in representation as you go up the org chart. According to a 2016 McKinsey report, Women in the Workplace, white men make up 36% of entry-level corporate jobs, and white women make up 31%. But at the very first rung above that, those numbers change to 47% for white men and 26% for white women — a 16% drop. For women of color, the drop from 17% to 11% is a plunge of 35%. People tend to think that whatever conditions exist now are “normal.” Maybe this (charitably) explains men’s blind spots: at companies where only one in ten senior leaders are women, says McKinsey, nearly 50% of men felt women were “well represented” in leadership.

Worse than being snubbed by the woman above me was the lack of communication between women at my level. Of the 50 auditors in my class, five were women. All of us were on different client teams. At the end of my first year, I was shocked and surprised to learn that all four of the other women had quit or been fired — shocked at the outcome, and surprised because we hadn’t talked amongst ourselves enough to understand what was happening. During that year, I’d had difficult experiences with men criticizing me, commenting on my looks, or flatly saying I didn’t deserve to work there — but I had no idea that the other women were having similar challenges. We expected our performance to be judged as objectively as our clients’ books, and we didn’t realize the need to band together until it was too late. Each of us had dealt with those challenges individually, and obviously not all successfully.

I resolved not to let either of those scenarios happen again; I wanted to be aware of what was going on with the women I worked with. As I advanced in my career, I hosted women-only lunches and created open channels of communication. I made it a point to reach out to each woman who joined the firm with an open door policy, sharing advice and my personal experiences, including how to say no to doing traditionally gendered (and uncompensated) tasks like getting coffee or taking care of the office environment. To personal assistants, who might find some of those tasks unavoidable, I emphasized that they could talk to me about any issues in the workplace, that their roles were critical, and that they should be treated with respect. The lunches were essential, providing a dedicated space to share challenges and successes. Coming together as a group made people realize that their problems weren’t just specific to them, but in fact were collective obstacles. All of this vastly improved the flow of information, and relieved tension and anxiety. It reassured us that though our jobs were challenging, we were not alone. In doing so, I hope it lowered the attrition rate of women working at my company — rates that are, across all corporate jobs, stubbornly higher for women than men, especially women of color.

My own daughter has arrived to a workplace that has not changed nearly as much as I had hoped — although 40% of Big Four accounting firm employees are women, they make up only 19% of audit partners. Only one in five C-suite members is a woman, and they are still less likely than their male peers to report that there are equal opportunities for advancement.

So, what are women in the workplace to do, when research shows that we’re penalized for trying to lift each other up? The antidote to being penalized for sponsoring women may just be to do it more — and to do it vocally, loudly, and proudly — until we’re able to change perceptions. There are massive benefits for the individual and the organization when women support each other. The advantages of sponsorship for protégés may be clear, such as access to opportunities and having their achievements brought to the attention of senior management, but sponsors gain as well, by becoming known as cultivators of talent and as leaders. Importantly, organizations that welcome such sponsorship benefit too — creating a culture of support, and where talent is recognized and rewarded for all employees. Sponsorship (which involves connecting a protégé with opportunities and contacts and advocating on their behalf, as opposed to the more advice-focused role of mentorship) is also an excellent way for men to be allies at work.

But there’s still so much work that needs to be done. I’m thrilled by the rise of women’s organizations like Sallie Krawchek’s Ellevate Network, a professional network of women supporting each other across companies to change the culture of business at large. (I’m especially fond of it because it began as “85 Broads,” a network of Goldman alumnae that drew its name from the old GS headquarters address before Krawcheck, a Merrill alumna, bought and expanded it.) That network spawned a sibling, Ellevest, an investment firm focused on women and companies that advance women. Other ventures include Dee Poku-Spalding’s WIE networks (Women Inspiration and Enterprise), a leadership network whose mission is to support women in their career ambitions by providing real world learning via access to established business leaders. I am attempting to make my own dent in this area, having endowed the McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership at my alma mater, Villanova, which supports new research and leadership development opportunities for women.

These are wonderful supplements, but they can’t replace the benefits of and the necessity for connections among women inside a company — at and across all levels. It reduces the feeling of competition for an imaginary quota at the top. It helps other women realize, “Oh, it’s not just me” — a revelation that can change the course of a women’s career. It’s also an indispensable way of identifying bad actors and systemic problems within the company. It need not be a massive program, and you don’t need to overthink it — in fact, there’s a healthy debate about affinity groups run from the top down. Whether you are a first-year employee or a manager, just reach out and make those connections. I’m guessing you’ll find that the return on investment on the cost of a group lunch will be staggering.

If you’d like to learn more about how Equita Financial Network can help women-led financial planning firms succeed, please contact us.

Why Equita, and Why Now?

“When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else” Melinda Gates

Over the past month Bridget and I have been asked to do a number of interviews relating to Equita, and discuss what we are offering and the benefits of the platform. One question we recently were asked was why now? The short answer is – we were tired of waiting. There are many other firms and initiatives in the industry targeted towards supporting women, but we wanted action now and Equita gives us a way to connect with other females planners today and for us to have a voice in an industry where we often feel that our words are dismissed.

FA Magazine recently published an article titled, “Want More Women Advisors?” and the writer asked advisors around the country to list what needs to be done to increase the number of women financial advisors. Reading the responses summarized in the article brought me back to remembering why I started my firm, Method Financial Planning, 3 years ago, what I needed and how I found it:

FLEXIBILITY

When my first son was born I was a new mom trying to succeed in a very demanding job and figure out the mom thing at the same time. My husband and I both had long commutes and demanding jobs and with no family local to the area we decided to hire a nanny to look after our son. A few months into my transition back to work our nanny got sick so my husband and I tried the best we could to cover work and childcare for the next few days until our nanny was well.

One morning after I returned to the office I was told that I needed to find a contingency plan for childcare if my nanny couldn’t make and it couldn’t be me.

I tell this story not to say, he (my boss) was wrong or how dare someone say that to me. I am telling the story instead because I know that I am not the only person who has had this situation and I want to help change the way the industry deals with this type of issue. I needed flexibility and to work for a firm that was able to understand my needs as a new mom. Owning my business allows me to both be present as a mom and also present with my business and clients. Yes, I work long days, and early mornings, and late nights and usually on the weekends when the kids are napping, but I love that I can have my career and still be present as a mom.

SUPPORT

After graduating from college I spent 10+ years working for firms where I struggled to find my place and someone who I could model my career after. Where were all the women advisors? In my career I never have worked alongside a female financial advisor. Could I still survive in this demanding profession once I had children? Most of the men I worked with had wives that stayed at home when they had children. Where could I go to find someone who would understand where I wanted to go with my career? I joined networking groups and met some amazing women who were very successful in their careers but it was only after years of trying that I finally found a few women advisors that I felt understood me and could help me make some hefty career decisions.

When I finally launched my own practice I still very much appreciated the women I had met, but I needed even more support. I needed to find women that not only were planners but were also business owners.

Enter Equita and the ability connect with other like-minded business owners focused on offering exceptional client service.

No more wasted years trying to find a mentor, we are all gathering together with the mission to change the landscape of the financial services industry.

As a member of Equita I am able to run my business more efficiently, offer better solutions to my clients and continue to grow my firm with the support and collaboration of the other network members. Equita is about more than just my partner, Bridget Grimes and I. It is about the impact we can all have on an industry that needs to see change.

The Western Woman Will Change the World

In 2016 the Dalai Lama announced with his great wisdom that “the western woman is going to change the world.”

There is such tremendous strength in our ability to collaborate, our empathy and compassion, our drive, and intelligence. But to move the needle on this change requires more than just talking about it. It requires action. I’d like to share my story behind launching Equita with my co-founder Katie Burke, and how we hope it can truly make a difference to the women led planning firms across the country and the many clients these planners serve.

Several years ago I launched WealthChoice, a financial life planning firm for women executives and their families. It was not what I intended when I entered the financial planning industry. I never expected to launch my own firm. But years working tireless hours every week for a traditional RIA, getting paid a fraction of what male planners were being paid at the firm, hearing that I was “too old” by other firms to consider a lateral move, being told I was too ambitious by my boss, or that my efforts to bring women together was a waste of time, all converged in 2016 to help me launch my financial planning firm. And with unbelieveable anxiety and stress I launched, on my own, with a vision and passion and my client’s trust.

This is where Equita comes in.

In order to provide the highest level of guidance to my clients, my firm needs the best business resources. As a small woman-led business, I found it easier to outsource these resources rather than curate them myself, mostly for fear of missing key pieces or making mistakes. I also wanted to have more time to focus on client service, which was possible by outsourcing many business resources.

Our role as financial planners is to help women who are working so very hard, live life on their terms. Financial planning is an absolute passion of mine, but so is having my own firm. We are intentional in who we serve, and how we serve our clients. My firm is an extension of myself, and it is a personal passion. It brings me tremendous fulfillment. But with growth, it also caused me to step back to see how we could structure our business better so that we could do more of what we do best, serve clients.

In the course of business I met and collaborated with another financial planner on some client cases to great success. Katie Burke, President of Method Financial Planning, and I realized the great power in collaborating in our businesses. Clients benefit, we benefit. Katie and I started to share best practices in business and planning on a more frequent basis. We saw the terrific results and knew that other women could benefit. So we started to dig into what could allow us to be even better planners and how we could make that available for other independent women led planning firms.

We wanted solutions that would allow us to have more time to spend on what is most important to our firms, and that is great financial planning solutions for our clients. We both realized that having outstanding business resources behind us would allow us to do better work and run our businesses more efficiently. It would allow us the time and resources to grow our businesses intentionally, and not be bogged down with running our businesses, but rather streamline the operations side. We wanted a platform for collaboration, for sharing curated resources, for succession planning, for helping other women led firms be successful. To do this, we needed a platform of the best industry resources, which we spent the next 7 months assembling.

This past week WealthChoice and Method Financial Planning became the first Member firms of Equita Financial Network. We are thrilled to welcome fellow women-led financial planning firms to the platform and look forward to making a difference to clients and women business owners on a scale we have not yet seen in our industry.

There is power in bringing smart, driven, like-minded women together in business. Together we will change the future for our clients, and for women business owners.

 

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