How to Build a Business on Your Own Terms

Throughout our careers, both Katie Burke and I (Bridget Grimes) have dealt with toxic business environments and have faced gender discrimination and ageism. We have heard it all: too aggressive, too ambitious, too idealistic.

And our experiences aren’t unique — they mirror what women across our industry face. At traditionally run, male-dominated financial planning firms, women lack mentors, role models, and opportunities for growth.
These frustrations led both Katie and I to launch our own financial planning practices before we knew each other — Katie’s being Method Financial Planning in Pennsylvania and mine being WealthChoice in California. We found that if we wanted to change the outlook for female financial planners, we had to do it ourselves. The system was broken.

When Katie and I met each other later and found that we had similar values and goals, we created Equita Financial Network, a registered investment advisor (RIA) network for women-led firms, in May 2018. Having celebrated our one-year business anniversary earlier this summer, here are some tips we’ve learned along the way on how to build a business on your own terms.

Define your mission

Katie and I founded Equita Financial Network because we wanted to empower women financial planners and change the industry.

When defining our mission, we decided on three main pillars: 1. Offer community, 2. Close the wage gap through our platform, and 3. Enhance the quality of people’s lives. This mission has been our north star as we’ve built our business.

Achieve what you want

It can be challenging fighting expectations and creating your own definition of success. But don’t get distracted by other people’s opinions.

As Maren Hogan of Red Branch Media noted in The Muse, everyone will have unsolicited advice: “No one told me just how opinionated others would be about my business. People will come out of the woodwork with what they believe to be sage advice, when they’ve never even been in my shoes. People who have had corporate jobs all their lives will tell you exactly what you should be doing to run your business. Just nod and smile.”

Business goals aren’t the only thing to consider when starting a company. What do you want to achieve personally? Do you want the ability to spend more time with family, travel, work from anywhere? Your personal goals are just as important.

Be flexible

While running your own business can be fulfilling and freeing, it can also be unpredictable. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, only about 50 percent of small businesses survive five years or longer.

As notes, “Make sure to take some time each week to think about the long-term health of your business. Think about the goals you’ve set and how you’ll get there. Do you need to invest in marketing or employee development and training, for instance? Planning for the future will help ensure that your business is around for a long time.”

Equita Financial Network has created a network for female financial planners to grow and connect, and for clients to get trusted and experienced financial advice. If you’re interested in becoming an Equita member firm or working with one of our firms’ financial advisors, contact us today.

What You Can Do to Retain More Women in Financial Services

With #MeToo and #TimesUp, we’ve made big strides in highlighting and challenging the biases and discrimination women face in all facets of business — but we still have a long way to go. In investment banking, for instance, women account for less than 17 percent of senior leaders; in private equity, 9 percent of senior executives and 18 percent of total employees; and at hedge funds and private debt firms, 11 percent of leadership roles. As Cate Luzio notes in her opinion piece “Why women keep leaving banking” for American Banker, “Women leave for many reasons, but young women look up and either see too few people like them in senior roles or, worse, too few opportunities. In my view, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

To further illustrate the gaps, take a look at the findings from a CNBC and LinkedIn survey about working in the financial services industry:

  • Nearly two-thirds of women polled say females are less likely than males to reach leadership roles.
  • Women (8 percent) are about four times as likely as men (2 percent) to believe women are excluded from networking and social opportunities, such as after-work drinks or golf outings.
  • Only 40 percent of women and 75 percent of men agree that the genders working at the same level are paid equally at their companies.
  • Nineteen percent of women and 12 percent of men say the biggest obstacle is a lack of female leadership.
  • Fourteen percent of women say their biggest obstacle is a lack of mentorship or sponsorship.

So, how can companies retain more women in financial services? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Rebrand the financial services industry to make it clearer that women can succeed in this field

As Céline Dufétel, CFO at T. Rowe Price, notes,  “Very few women seek those careers out of school. I remember when I was interviewing for an internship way back when, the banks felt intimidating to me.” Companies needs to make it clear that women can thrive in this industry, that they’re taking this issue seriously, and that they’re actually doing something about fixing gender inequality. As Margo Cook from Nuveen Advisory Services states, “Making these issues a standard, let alone accepted, topic for all leaders to talk about — male or female — is what will break down the walls.”

2. Provide opportunities for professional growth and career development through mentorship and sponsorship

We need more and better access to sponsors; firms can accomplish this by expanding offerings for formal sponsorship programs. According to a McKinsey & Company survey, less than half of financial services companies have such programs, and only 58 percent have formal mentorship programs. McKinsey notes that while female role models are crucial, both men and women should serve as sponsors and mentors to ensure that women build the diverse networks they need throughout their careers.

Beyond formal programs, McKinsey also suggests that companies should monitor the quality of and access to sponsorship for both junior and senior-level women. “For example, a best practice is to send out an annual sponsorship survey to identify sponsors and candidates for sponsorship so that gaps can be identified and addressed early.”

3. Create flexibility, work-life balance, and job stability

While flexibility programs are common across the financial industry (about 90 percent of financial services companies offer extended maternity and/or paternity leave, and 92 percent offer flexible work policies), many women fear that using these flexibility programs might hinder their advancement and job stability. Having experienced just how detrimental lack of flexibility can be for career growth, we think the call-to-action is clear: Companies need to show their acceptance and usage of flexible working policies in order to keep more women in the field.

4. Offer a re-entry path

A survey of MBA alumni by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that 41 percent of women and only 12 percent of men report leaving the workforce at some time to take care of children. The financial industry must create a solid path for employees to leave and re-enter the workplace more easily. They can do this through sponsoring returnship programs, skills-update training, or creating more long-term, flex-work solutions.

5. Get rid of bias in reviews and promotions

While 79 percent of financial services companies offer unconscious-bias training, only 18 percent require it. A commitment to addressing unconscious bias needs to come from leadership. And this training needs to not only cover recognizing bias, but also how to address bias head-on in hiring, performance, and promotion discussions.

6. Create a culture that prioritizes — and values — diversity and inclusion

Companies need to do more than talk about diversity and equality; they need to take visible steps to make it happen. While 95 percent of financial services companies track gender representation across all levels, far fewer companies have clearly defined goals for this data. Financial services companies need to set targets for female representation and promotion rates, and keep leaders accountable.

When Katie Burke and Bridget Grimes co-founded Equita Financial Network, they wanted to fix the biases and systemic issues that had permeated their world for far too long. Today, Katie and Bridget are changing the financial services industry by creating an empowering network for female planners that provides them with the support and resources needed to run their businesses effectively. We know that women make exceptional financial advisors; now it’s time to show them how much we value their contributions.

Are you interested in joining Equita Financial Network? Contact us today

Why Female Mentorship Is More Important Than Ever

The financial planning industry has a gender issue — despite the fact that 70 percent of women seeking financial advice say they would prefer a female advisor to a male. Despite the fact that, for women who currently have an advisor, 73 percent report they are not happy with the one they have, and 87 percent say they don’t “connect” with their advisor. Despite the fact that 71 percent of women say Wall Street is not in touch with their financial needs.

Yep…there’s still a huge gender imbalance in finance. Allow us to offer up some more stats: In 2013, less than a third of financial planners were women, and only 23 percent had the gold-standard CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation. That number hasn’t changed in more than a decade, even though the CFP Board launched its Women’s Initiative (WIN) to address the “feminine famine” in financial planning. And today, the number of female financial advisors still rests below 20 percent.

In a Forbes article titled “Where Are All The Female Financial Advisers?”, financial advisor Eleanor Blayney said, “We do not have the professional culture yet that nurtures and supports women networks, mentorship and professional development.”

Mentorship Matters — and It Starts at the Top

We need to create a culture where female mentorship programs work. With the right mentor, women can see it’s possible to succeed in this industry. We need female mentors to help female financial planners navigate this male-dominated space, break stereotypes, develop a strong network, and gain leadership roles. Most of the financial planning leadership roles are still held by men, who are failing to hire female talent. A 2014 Center for American Progress report found that “women make up 54 percent of the financial-services labor force but only 12 percent of its executive officers and 18 percent of its directors.”

But as important as female mentorship is, change also needs to come from the top.

Sallie Krawcheck — co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, a digital financial advisor for women — voiced her frustrations about ineffective diversity groups and mentoring programs. At Fortune magazine’s inaugural Brainstorm Finance conference in June 2019, she said, “Guys, we’ve been doing that for years and years and years. If it was gonna work, it would’ve worked.” Instead, CEOs need to “break the wheel,” meaning they need to take dramatic, seismic action to address the finance industry’s gender and diversity problem. “One way to reduce the volatility on Wall Street, the research tells us, is to have more women,” Krawcheck said in a CNN Business interview.

Zaneilia Harris’s recent Financial Planning column titled “I am a black woman advisor. Am I valued by this industry?” highlighted how male-dominated the industry still is. “It feels like our industry measures who we are as minority and women advisors based on standards set by white men,” wrote Harris, the president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management Group. “As I’ve grown my independent financial advisory firm, there have been few mentors, let alone sponsors, willing to counsel me along my journey.

“When I talk to industry people, I notice the same look and feeling during our interactions. It’s distant, often distracted, and I can detect that they’d prefer to be chatting with other people — particularly the white men — in the room.”

The Power of the Tribe

When we (Katie Burke and Bridget Grimes) were just starting Equita, we 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 their female industry peers, who they could reach out to for business and client solutions. They wanted to share best practices and receive support and encouragement from women who faced the same challenges they did.

Today, we provide women with the collaborative network they need to succeed, at every age and stage of their careers. Equita is a platform for sharing best practices in business and for client solutions, but it is also creating organic outlets for mentorship, which helps women build successful careers in financial planning and keeps them in the field.

Change happens when you are willing to challenge the status quo. Let’s lift each other up, share stories, learn from other experiences, and empower future generations of women to new levels of success.

If you’re interested in connecting with other like-minded female financial advisors, contact us today.

Equita in the Media: Financial Advisor Magazine

It started with a mission inspired by real-life experiences.

The disenfranchised woman who works for a financial advisory firm that makes her feel alone — no like-minded mentor to rely on for advice, no advocate to seek out for support.

The woman who is overloaded with stress and anxiety, struggling to balance childcare and family obligations with a demanding job that doesn’t pay her the wage she deserves.

The woman who sees a better way — a path to starting the financial advisory firm she has always dreamed of — but doesn’t have the network or resources she needs to run her business effectively.

Equita Financial Network started with us — two women who were passionate about the financial planning profession but felt the pain of the biases and systemic issues that have permeated our world for far too long.

And now, it’s time for change.

We couldn’t be more excited to have Equita’s story, mission, and vision profiled in Financial Advisor Magazine. Here, our co-founders, Bridget Venus Grimes and Katie Burke, share their commitment to changing the financial planning industry through a network that empowers female planners to do their life’s work without sacrificing what matters most to them.

Read the full piece here.

If you are interested in learning more about Equita and how our platform can support your long-term success, contact us today.

3 Barriers We Must Break to Foster the Next Generation of Female Advisors

The financial services industry is about to be disrupted by an unprecedented, history-making shift in demographic power: Baby boomers, who make up America’s largest generation, are reaching their last years in the workforce and will be retiring en masse over the next decade. For our industry, that means many partner-level financial advisors are preparing to exit the firms and the teams they have helped build and grow. Simultaneously, those firms will see an increase in the number of high-net-worth clients who are seeking personal retirement planning and investment advice. Enter, the “next generation” — the young, up-and-coming advisors who have been primed to take the reins from their successors and prepare their firms to serve clients with a host of different, complex needs.

Unfortunately, a very low percentage of those next-gen financial advisors will be women. At least, that’s what the data tells us today: Sixty-five percent of newly hired, entry-level support (or “associate”) advisors are men, according to a survey report compiled by InvestmentNews and State Street Global Advisors. Moreover, male advisors are being promoted at a faster pace than their female colleagues, at a rate of 16.5% versus 10.3%, respectively.

The good news is that the industry is ripe for change. As we prepare for this major shift in advisor and client demographics, today’s financial advisory firms must re-invent themselves to remain viable and relevant — and that includes the make-up of their teams. There’s truly no better time to reverse the statistics and bring more next-gen female advisors into the fold.

There are three, major barriers we need to knock down first:

1. The Pay Gap

Last year, full-time female financial advisors earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by their male peers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We can’t resolve gender disparity in the advisory profession without closing the pay gap. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we founded Equita Financial Network. Our mission is to offer female financial advisors the resources they need to run their own financial planning businesses, which can allow them to receive the pay they are entitled to and keep more of what they earn.

We hope that other leaders in the industry follow suit. By providing women with opportunities to run their own practices, and by encouraging firms to prioritize the need for female leadership, we can open doors for next-gen female advisors to work for firms that respect, celebrate, and nurture their talents and expertise. Empowering women as firm leaders also ensures that these next-gen advisors have role models to emulate and look up to. These women will be able to see themselves as leaders by following the example of those who came before them.

2. The Lack of Flexibility

According to the research conducted by InvestmentNews and State Street Global Advisors, 20% of women advisors noted that striking a balance between career and family was the top barrier to professional advancement.

At Equita, we have seen, firsthand, the unconscious bias and discrimination that can arise in firms in which a healthy work-life balance is not a priority — particularly for women who juggle child-rearing and caregiving responsibilities while managing demanding careers. We can boost the number of women who actually stay in the industry when we provide the culture and environment that makes them feel fulfilled in their work and quality of life.

3. The Missing Network

In the InvestmentNews and State Street Global Advisors report, DeAnne Steele, Managing Director and Private Client/Institutional Advisor at Bank of America Private Bank, asks:

“What can we do to create a better sense of inclusion? Why do women not think to become financial advisors when they are so perfectly suited for this industry?”

At Equita, we believe that networking is the solution to so many of the issues that female advisors face — but most importantly, it solves the issue of representation. Since our company’s inception, we have spent countless hours talking to our female peers, with the goal of uncovering solutions to these detrimental problems affecting our industry. In every conversation, we have realized that what female advisors truly want (and need) is a group of women they can rely on — women they can turn to for advice, for support, and for partnership.

It’s why we have dedicated our professional lives to providing women with the collaborative network they need to succeed, at every age and stage of their careers. Equita is a platform for sharing best practices in business and for client solutions, but notably, it provides that critical missing piece to help women build successful careers in financial planning, thereby retaining them in the field.

The financial services industry will not survive if it doesn’t disrupt itself. Firms must transform to retain diverse, next-generation advisors that will help bring fresh perspective and expertise to their clients. Help us lead the charge to effect change and keep women in a profession that so desperately needs them.

Are you interested in joining the Equita network or learning more about how we can help you? Contact us today.

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 year, Bridget and I have been asked to do a number of interviews about Equita Financial Network, in which we have discussed what we offer our members and the overall benefits of the platform. In one such interview, a reporter asked us the question: “Why now?”

The short answer is: We are tired of waiting. In the financial services industry, there are many other firms and initiatives targeted at supporting women — but we want action now. Equita gives us a way to connect with other female planners today, and it enables us to have a voice in an industry where we often feel like our words are dismissed.

Last year, Financial Advisor Magazine published an article titled, “Want More Women Advisors?” The writer asked financial advisors around the country to offer their opinions on what they felt needed to change to increase the number of women financial advisors. When I read the responses summarized in the article, it reminded me of why I started my firm, Method Financial Planning, three years ago; what I needed; and how I found it:


When my first son was born, I was trying to succeed in a very demanding job while figuring out the “mom thing” at the same time. My husband had a demanding job as well, plus we both had long commutes. With no family local to the area, we decided to hire a nanny to look after our son. One day, a few months into my transition back to work, our nanny called in sick — so my husband and I tried our best to cover work and childcare for the next few days until our nanny was well.

After I returned to the office, my supervisor told me that I needed to find a contingency plan for childcare if my nanny couldn’t make it — and that “plan” couldn’t be me.

I tell this story not to say that he, my boss, was wrong; instead, I share this story because I know that I’m not the only person who has encountered this type of issue, and I want to help change the way the industry deals with it. At that particular moment in my life, I needed flexibility — I needed to work for a firm that was able to understand my needs as a new mom.

Owning my business allows me to be both present as a mom and 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. I have opportunity and options that I simply didn’t have before.


After graduating from college, I spent over 10 years working for firms where I struggled to find my place and a career mentor. I would ask myself, “Where are all the women advisors?” In fact, over the course of my career, I have never worked alongside a female financial advisor. Most of the men I worked with had wives that stayed at home when they had children. Would I be able to survive in this demanding profession once I had kids of my own? Where could I 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 whom I felt understood me and could help me make some hefty career decisions.

When I finally launched my own practice, I still appreciated the women I met previously, but I needed even more support. I needed to find women who were not only planners but business owners as well.

Enter Equita, which offered me and other like-minded female firm owners the ability connect with each other and share best practices that allowed us to achieve our ultimate goal of offering exceptional client service. No more years wasted trying to find a mentor — thanks to Equita, we have gathered, together, with the mission to change the landscape of the financial services industry for the better.

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 other network members. Equita is about more than just me and my partner, Bridget; it is about the impact we can all have on an industry that needs to see change.

Are you interested in joining Equita Financial Network? Contact us today

How Do We Close the Opportunity Gap for Women-Owned Financial Planning Firms?

The time has come: You are finally ready to start your own financial planning firm.

Perhaps you want to enter a new phase of your professional career, one that better meets your needs — whether it’s more fair compensation or a healthier work-life balance. Maybe you’re motivated by the flexibility and freedom that come with being your own boss.

No matter what is driving your decision, we commend you for taking the leap. At Equita Financial Network, we meet women just like you every single day — aspiring firm leaders who are creating their own path to independence.

Of course, that path is filled with both opportunities and hesitations: How do you leave the security of your paycheck, while supporting your personal and business expenses? Will your clients want to continue working with you once you’ve left your current firm? How do you find the solutions you need to run your business effectively? We know these feelings well, because we’ve been there before.

Getting access to the right resources and support can be a difficult undertaking for any business owner who is just starting out — but research shows it can be significantly more challenging for women.

The Opportunity Gap

Inside and outside of the financial services industry, the data proves that women are natural entrepreneurs. Between 2007 and 2016, women started businesses five times faster than the national average, according to a report commissioned by American Express OPEN. The research also shows that compared to men, women also reinvest more of the profits they earn from their businesses back into their communities and families.

All great news, right?

Underneath that progress lies a critical issue: access. Women business owners still struggle with securing the resources they need to launch their enterprise and foster future growth. For context: Only 2.2% of all venture capital in the United States goes to companies founded solely by women. What’s more, just 2% of women-owned businesses make it to $1 million in revenue — 3.5 times less than their male peers.

While there are many systemic factors that have contributed to the access issue, we can’t help but think of the network piece — the closed communities and barriers to entry that exist for women in the workplace, especially in spaces dominated by men.

In previous blog posts, we have often repeated the old adage, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” — and in the world of female entrepreneurship, this couldn’t be more accurate. The marked increase in the number of women business owners has signaled a need for outlets that provide women with opportunities to learn from one another — to share stories, solutions, and most importantly, resources, that can fuel their path to growth and success.

Why Collaboration Wins — and How Firms Fall Short

We can personally attest to the power of collaborative outlets for women. Prior to establishing Equita, our founders, Bridget and Katie, were busy leading their own financial planning practices. After bonding over similar career experiences, they wound up collaborating with each other on a few client cases, which led to mutual success. Bridget and Katie soon discovered that by leveraging each other’s unique abilities and resources, they were able to run their businesses more efficiently and spend their time focusing on what mattered most to them, both personally and professionally.

What resulted was a rare and wonderful combination of community and accessibility — and thus, the concept of Equita was born. We believe there is something truly unique in having a network that allows for support, collaboration, connection, and education, while providing all of the resources one could need to run their business, on their own terms.

In recent years, it has become clear that the industry is catching up and understanding the unique challenges female planners face. Some firms have even ramped up recruiting efforts to attract next-gen women to the field, but there’s still a critical missing piece:

These efforts fail to empower women who are already in the industry with the resources they need to stay and succeed.

This is where a network created by women — for women — can make all the difference.

We See a Better Way

Today’s female firm leaders certainly need practical business solutions to achieve success and face challenges head on — from compliance support, to technology, to portfolio management. But beyond those solutions, we at Equita believe there’s an even greater value that comes with fostering a community that women can rely on — one that empowers women to fuel each other’s success, advocate for each other, and feel supported at every stage of their business.

Ultimately, this is how we’ll close the opportunity gap once and for all. It’s like the late Hazel Hawke once said: “Women’s networks are a necessary part of life. A mixture of empathy and brainstorming can move mountains.” Let’s move mountains and seize success, together.

Are you interested in learning more about Equita’s platform? Get in touch with our team today.

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

When we were just starting Equita, 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 their female industry peers, who they could reach out to for business and client solutions. They wanted to share best practices and receive support and encouragement from women who faced the same challenges they did.

In a recent blog post, we talked about Anne Welsh McNulty’s Harvard Business Review article, which speaks to the value and the benefit of networks for women. Not only do networks provide support and connection, but they also have a tremendous impact on women’s success in business.

When Women Support Each Other, Amazing Things Happen

Don’t underestimate the power of women connecting with and supporting each other at work. Over the course of my career, I have gone from being a rookie accountant to a managing director at an investment bank. Those experiences taught me that 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; I believed 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 part of the Big Four), I kept asking the only woman who was senior to me if she wanted to go to lunch together. Finally, she told me, “Look, there’s only room for one female partner here. You and I are not going to be friends.”

Sadly, her reaction was rational. Even today, senior-level women who champion younger women 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 because they feel they will 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 in the workplace. It’s easy to believe that there’s limited space at the top for people who look like you 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 10 senior leaders are women, nearly 50% of men felt women were “well represented” in leadership, according to McKinsey.

Connection Is Key

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 had difficult experiences with the men I worked with — they criticized me, commented on my looks, or flatly said I didn’t deserve to work there. But I had no idea that the other women around me were facing 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 — I shared 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 I was available to talk about any issues in the workplace; I stressed that their roles were critical to the organization, and that they should be treated with respect.

These women-only lunches were essential, and provided 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, they were collective obstacles. All of this communication 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 getting access to opportunities and having their achievements brought to the attention of senior management. But sponsors gain from these relationships, too; ultimately, they become known as cultivators of talent and as leaders in their companies. Importantly, organizations that welcome such sponsorship benefit as well — they are able to create a culture of support, 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 in the office.

There’s More Work to Do

I’m thrilled by the rise of women’s organizations like Sallie Krawchek’s Ellevate Network, a professional network of women that support 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 Sachs 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 (Women Inspiration and Enterprise) 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 woman’s career. It’s also an indispensable way of identifying bad actors and systemic problems within a company.

The program doesn’t need to be massive, 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 through connection and collaboration, please contact us.