More than a dozen girls from a south Minneapolis high school joined 170 of my firm’s top female advisors a few weeks ago at our annual women’s financial advisor conference.
The energy and excitement were incredible to see and the spark of interest flickering in the eyes of one of those girls, Bemnet Alemayehu, was infectious. Bemnet and her classmates had spent five weeks with some of our female employees increasing their financial literacy and learning more about the world of financial services.
When asked what she was thinking about for a career, Bemnet said, “I was always more into the medical field, but now...,” as she briefly paused, “maybe I’m shifting more towards business. I’m still not sure. I’m still exploring!”
Well before stepping into my role as Head of Advisor Recruiting for RBC Wealth Management earlier this year, I’d pondered this seemingly basic question: why don’t more young girls think about financial services when choosing their career? Although women account for just over half of the American population, and an increasingly large share of investable wealth, a 2017 report by Cerulli Associates showed they represent only 15.7 percent of financial advisors nationwide.
I’ve long thought a lack of female role models in our industry was the top reason. These days, however, my answer to that question is a little different.
A lack of visible female role models may well be part of the problem. But I’ve realized there is something even bigger to consider. Many girls simply lack enough confidence in their own financial know-how to even imagine helping others with their money. It’s not an absence of aspiration or ambition holding them back; rather it may just be more basic—a lack of financial literacy.
Balancing a checkbook or making wise use of debt is rarely a part of any school curriculum today; yet most kids still take some form of home economics. We teach our kids to cook because that is a well-agreed foundational skill. Why not finance?
Financial illiteracy among our children is to society’s detriment. When young women are hard-wired not to apply for a job until they think they have 90 percent of the qualifications, it soon becomes a challenge for financial services recruitment efforts, too.
To fix this imbalance, we certainly need more women rising through the financial services ranks to senior leadership roles. But we also need more girls thinking about joining us as they choose higher education, meaning we should be proactive and get creative about getting them interested in the field earlier on.
Just one illustration: organizations like Rock the Street Wall Street (RTSWS), which RBC Wealth Management is sponsoring for this school year in the Twin Cities, tap financial services firms to help fill in the financial literacy gap, and spark interest of high school girls in the community, like Bemnet, to pursue careers in finance.
As part RTSWS, six female employees at RBC Wealth have committed to spending one hour a week for five weeks, teaching students at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis the basics of investing and budgeting. Each woman also serves as a role model for the girls they teach, providing valuable insight and answering questions about what a career in finance might look like.
For us, we also view our work with RTSWS as a springboard to greater exposure: we invited our students to attend our recent annual Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA) conference in Minneapolis, where they mingled with 170 of the top female advisors in our business—and many of the women in our own corporate office, as well.
Since the launch of RTSWS in 2013, more than 1,750 girls across 17 U.S. cities have gone through the program, with 69 percent of participants coming from communities of color and 44 percent coming from low-income households. Even with only five hours of instruction, it works: girls who have gone through RTSWS are four times more likely than the national average to pursue college degrees in finance, economics or a related field.
A New Choice
Ultimately, the goal isn’t to convince Bemnet or her classmates to decide to join RBC today—though we would love to have them! Rather, it is to give them the tools and opportunity to imagine this possibility—to give birth to a new dream, or a newly-obvious choice.
As I always say to my team, we win ‘by the ones.’ When it comes to recruiting women to our industry, that starts with supporting the empowerment and skills every girl in America deserves, anyway. Luckily enough, financial institutions will be better for it, too.
Kristen Kimmell, is the Head of Advisor Recruiting, RBC Wealth Management—U.S.