Female Branch Managers: Rare, and Maybe Getting Rarer

Women say their interpersonal skills have made them successful managers. They just don't covet the job so much anymore

In 1987, when J.C. Bradford was trying to lure Jill Bradley away from Merrill Lynch in Louisville, Ky., she tossed out what she figured would be a deal-breaker. “I said, ‘Why don't you make me branch manager? Then, I'll move,’” she recalls.

Much to her surprise, Merrill took the bait and she became one of the very few female branch managers then in the business. Today, Bradley is a branch manager for Wachovia Securities, supervising 19 FAs, including five women. But, she says, little has changed: “The industry was about 10 percent women then, and it's not much more than that now,” she observes. “There were almost no female branch managers when I became one. And, now there are a few.”

Employment data on female branch managers are hard to come by. A 2003 diversity study conducted by the SIA (the latest information available) found that women accounted for a total of 12 percent of branch office managers, the same proportion as in the 2001 survey.

Closed Mouths and Doors

Asked for figures, the wirehouses declined to provide any to Registered Rep., citing company policies. A.G. Edwards also declined to provide data, but issued the following statement: “While we have had significant progress in the last five years, the number of female branch managers at our firm is still not where we'd like. We remain committed to increasing this representation as we recruit, promote and develop branch managers for the future.”

Regardless of that commitment, women in branch management may become rarer still. First, there are the traditional obstacles — cultural problems can make the move up to manager more dicey for women, plus they have long been leery of the personal and professional sacrifices required. But now there's another factor: With new demands on branch managers, women (and men) are wondering whether it's still a good career move.

Bradley, for one, cites cultural issues as a challenge for women becoming BOMs. Over the years, she says, men have been increasingly accepting of female brokers, but the dynamic changes when a woman goes from colleague to boss. “Female managers are more of an alien concept to both men and women,” she says.

There's a simple way to get around this, however, she says. “Some senior managers in this industry still tell me they believe men don't want to work for women. I'd say, if they'd just change that phraseology to working ‘with’ a woman, it would resolve a lot of the issue.”

Indeed, Bradley and other female BOMs stress that their natural inclinations — to help others and to work cooperatively — can make them outstanding managers. The problem is those are not the traits that put them in position for promotion: They had to be competitive and ego-driven — like one of the guys. “When I started, I had no female branch managers to model myself after,” Bradley recalls. “So, I modeled myself after some of the men. That was a disaster, quite frankly, because ego only breeds resentment. Successful managers have to be driven, foremost, by the success of others. That's the opposite of brokers, who are driven by their own success. I had been a successful broker, and I needed to lose that mentality.”

Connie Grigg is another successful broker who learned that as a branch manager she could draw on some of her more nurturing talents. She worked her way up from a sales assistant (while earning a finance degree and MBA from Michigan State) to a financial consultant at Merrill Lynch and joined Shearson in Cleveland in 1991. She stayed on as it morphed into Smith Barney and, in 2002, became an assistant branch manager; two years later, she got her own branch, in Centerville, Ohio, where she oversees 21 reps, two of whom are women. “I've always enjoyed coaching and helping other people develop their businesses,” she says.

Grigg is also big on networking and mentoring. She's active in a women's network within Smith Barney and reaches out to other female BOMs to share ideas. “Having good mentors is imperative to success,” she says.

Her transition to management was relatively smooth, she recalls. For her reps, “I think there was an initial ‘fear of the unknown’ in having a female manager,” she says. “But, that dissipates quickly when you show them you care and want them to succeed — and are very willing to help them.”

Griggs gives the firms credit for trying to move more women into management, but says there is now growing apprehension about the BOM role — on the part of men and women. Because of multiplying compliance issues, “There's so much more risk and responsibility that comes with being a branch manager these days that the job's probably lost a lot of its appeal.”

And, there's the financial risk: “You have to give up some or all of your book to have the flexibility management requires, and that's tough,“ Grigg says. “I know successful female reps who've worked incredibly hard to get where they are and don't want to do that. Your family life must also be at a certain point, so you can put in the hours and work hard to serve as the ‘standard bearer’ for an entire branch.”

Two years ago, Heather Hunt-Ruddy, then a regional sales manager at Wachovia, was seeking stability in the face of a merger with Prudential Securities. RBC Dain Rauscher made her an offer she couldn't refuse: the chance to manage the firm's Rochester branch and serve as director of its upstate New York complex — six other branches and one satellite office. Today, the 35-year-old, nonproducing branch manager and complex director oversees a total of 41 reps, six of whom are women.

“This job is all about relationships, and that's something where women are traditionally comfortable,” Hunt-Ruddy adds. “There are certain characteristics that the best managers in the world have. Strong leadership skills, decisiveness, emotional intelligence and an ability to see how others see you are critical.”

Like Grigg, she says the BOM job requires a flexible home life. How does she manage? “I have a wonderful husband who's a stay-at-home dad to our three kids. That enables me to do this.”

Perfect Fit for Changing World?

Grigg figures that the changing role of the BOM can actually be a plus for recruiting women — if the firms provide the proper training and support. “With branch management becoming less about production and more about other skill sets, I think the industry needs to come up with avenues where women can grow these other skill sets,” she says. “That's where I feel we're really lacking.”

Andrea Kotch Duda says she met with little resistance when she was hired as branch manager for a Raymond James branch in Ann Arbor, Mich. That's because she replaced a husband and wife team and the reps were used to a female supervisor. A producing BOM since 2000, Duda oversees nine reps, two of whom are female.

Not that gender doesn't play a role in how she manages and communicates with her reps. “Men and women express themselves differently,” she says. “And, while we may understand the same goals, I think we pursue progress and measure results differently. So, I feel I've had to learn to communicate and think like a man as well. It's all a learning curve, and I'm still learning. But, I think all the reps know I want them to do really well.”

Like Hunt-Ruddy, the 47-year-old Duda feels the job is best suited for a woman with enough time and flexibility to handle the increasing demands of management. Her husband is also a stay-at-home dad.

“I'd love to see more women in this role, because I think they have so much to offer,” she says. “But, not a lot of people are willing to take on this job because it's become so complex. And, I think that, while branch managers were once looked up to, we're now being viewed more and more as the bad guy because of the regulatory environment.”

Indeed, some women BOMs are following men — right back to production. “All in all, I'd say branch management has become a thankless job,” says a woman who recently returned to advising full-time. “It wasn't that way in the 1990s when I started. I enjoyed it back then.” Today, she says it's “the worst of both worlds” — reps look upon managers as tools of the firm and the firm is putting extraordinary pressure on the BOMs, because of compliance concerns.

Another woman who gave up her branch manager role says she, too, was frustrated by the demands placed on her. “Eight years ago, while I was a rep, my regional sales manager recommended me for branch management. I was really honored. I'd worked so hard and felt I was getting the ultimate recognition,” she says. “I'm grateful for the experience. But, I'm also quite relieved. I don't think it's a matter of discrimination. I honestly just don't think being a BOM is a great job anymore.”

Crashing the Boys Club

There aren't many branch managers who are female.

Firm: No. of Female BOMs/OSJs Total No. of BOMs Percent of Female BOMs
A.G. Edwards N/A* N/A -
J.P. Morgan & Co. N/A** N/A -
Legg Mason Wood Walker N/A* N/A -
Linsco/Private Ledger 393 2,870 12%
Merrill Lynch N/A N/A -
Morgan Stanley N/A** N/A
Piper Jaffray 11 71 15
Raymond James & Assoc. 4 104 3
Raymond James Financial 199 2,100 9
RBC Dain Rauscher N/A* N/A -
Ryan Beck 0 38 0
Smith Barney N/A* N/A -
Wachovia Securities (Private Client Group) 25 450 5
Average # female BOM's from this sampling: 8%
* Declined to give numbers due to company policy.
** Did not respond to request.

Women (percentage by position) 2001 vs. 2003:

2001 2003
Broker: 15% 16%
Branch Office Manager: 12 12
Managing Director: 14 19
Executive Management: 21 17
Source: SIA Diversity Study, 2003.
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