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Research has found that many of today’s female advisors came from within the investment industry, working in marketing, operations, and other areas.gradyreese/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Although the investment industry has shifted toward holistic, relationship-focused financial advice from a fiercely competitive, transaction-based, returns-focused environment, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: the proportion of financial advisors who are women remains stubbornly low, at about one in four in Canada.

That’s not because firms haven’t been trying to attract more female advisors, say Judy Paradi and Paulette Filion, partners at in Toronto, who recently co-wrote a white paper on the subject.

While they emphasize that there have been concerted efforts among financial services executives to encourage women to enter the profession, the challenge, Ms. Paradi says, is that “the branches are still predominantly run by men, who do the hiring – [and] people hire in their own image.”

To help women gain a greater foothold in the profession, Ms. Paradi would like to see firms invest in mandatory branch-level training focused on how to support women, where to look for them, how to hire them and how to integrate them into a team.

Ms. Filion, for her part, recommends firms identify and draw attention to champions – men and women – who have succeeded in bringing more women on board.

Their research has found that many of today’s female advisors came from within the industry, working in marketing, operations, and other areas, and they suggest that future female advisors may be hiding in plain sight.

“I’d like to see a lot more effort in finding these women, internally, at firms, looking within their own borders to try and uncover who are the people who are great at building relationships with clients,” Ms. Filion says. “They could be anywhere.”

Ingrid Macintosh, vice-president, wealth, at TD Asset Management Inc. in Toronto, and executive sponsor of the firm’s Women and Wealth program, says many organizations see the business imperative behind hiring more female advisors.

“The power of the woman wallet is growing exponentially quickly in Canada, [and] we know through both vertical and horizontal wealth transfer that women are set to be the dominant ones and control Canadian wealth within the next five years or so,” she says. “That means women must take and are taking a seat at that table in the advice conversations, and we need to have our industry reflect that customer base.”

But Ms. Macintosh acknowledges that while the “tone from the top” is essential, it’s also important to ask leaders pointedly whether their slate is diverse enough every time they have a hiring decision to make and to capitalize on the internal “natural pipeline” of potential female advisors.

In addition, she says it’s critical to offer tangible support to help teams adapt so they are better able to address women’s priorities in the workplace.

As such, one pillar of TD’s Women and Wealth program is a dedicated female advisor strategy that includes a soon-to-be-launched parental leave guide.

“Imagine a moment in which a manager hasn’t faced the conversation about what a parental leave looks like for somebody who has a book of business?” says Ms. Macintosh. “Why should a woman who is excelling in her role as an advisor have to figure it out for a big organization and tell them how to do it? [So we’ve] built that road map.”

Furthermore, she points to the importance of mentorship and of women who are already established in the business helping other women get started and succeed.

“If you are a woman and you have made it in this industry, whether it’s on the buy-side in asset management or in advice, you’ve climbed a pretty steep hill, and the ground is getting flatter, but we can still pull other women along and really help them.”

Sarah Widmeyer, director of wealth strategies at Toronto-based Richardson Wealth Ltd., adds that women considering careers as advisors need role models.

“It’s really important that women in this business talk about our own personal journey [and] ... giving voice is really important, through either employee-partner networking, formally and informally, or getting women in the field involved in head-office projects,” she says.

Ms. Widmeyer would also like to see the industry explore different compensation structures, as variable income can be a barrier to entry for women.

Overall, Mike Ankers, director, national sales, at Richardson Wealth, says that the narrative needs to change around the industry being an “investment business” … “I look at ourselves aspirationally as a professional services firm. I want to get paid for really good advice … When we change the narrative, that will attract more women to this industry.”

Mr. Ankers also points out that welcoming more women into the profession isn’t just about equity. A big part of it is about providing choices to serve clients best, and he says hiring women advisors often happens naturally when looking for the best candidates.

“Our recruiting pipeline is very well represented with women,” he says. “It’s an area of focus for us [but] it’s not because we’re going out to seek women directly. We’re seeing great relationship managers and people with great practices, and that’s leading to women.”

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