September 13, 2016 11:25 AM

The American College of Financial Services is proud to support events aimed at empowering female financial professionals. As the Women in Insurance and Financial Services Conference wraps up in Chicago, the InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit on Nov. 10 in San Francisco is sure to be an excellent event.

Jamie HopkinsEsq., MBA, LLM, CLU®, RICP®, Co-Director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income and Professor of Retirement Income Planning, and Julie Ragatz, Director of the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics in Financial Services and Assistant Professor of Ethics, were at the Chicago event, and Jocelyn Wright, MBA, CFP®, Director of the State Farm® Center for Women and Financial Services and Assistant Professor of Women's Studies will share her expertise in San Francisco.

In Chicago, Hopkins spoke about the inevitable changes to Social Security, while Ragatz led a discussion on ethical decision-making. In San Francisco, Wright will be part of an important panel discussion on how advisors can attract the next generation of female leaders.

The College’s subject matter experts are thrilled to play a role in these significant symposiums that offer hundreds of women the continuing education and networking opportunities that are so vital to building their practices. More importantly, the hope is that these events, and others like them, will serve a greater purpose: Promoting the advancement of women within financial services. Because the fact is, the dedicated women who attend these conferences are focusing their full attention to a profession that, statistically speaking, has not offered them equal opportunity.

It’s no secret women are underrepresented in financial services. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 38 percent of all financial advisors are women. But thanks to some cutting edge research conducted by The American College Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics in Financial Services, there may be some new answers to the age-old question: Why the disparity?

The Center for Ethics surveyed over 1,100 men and women in the financial services profession and followed up with over 70 interviews. One of the main themes in the interviews was the persistence of the “old-boys” network. Female respondents believed their workplace inclusion and opportunities for advancement were hurt by the informal relationships between male advisors. For example, common networking activities in financial services, such as drinks after work or weekend golf trips, are male-dominated and resist gender-integration, the report showed.

Interview respondents were also asked what they believed would be the best ways to increase the number of women in the profession. Some respondents recommended the support of gender specific organizations or – coincidentally – events that provide opportunities to increase technical expertise and network with other top performing women. Interestingly, other respondents worried these “women only” activities are counterproductive, because they merely perpetuate the separation between women and men.

Julie Ragatz, who is spearheading the research, said the criticism is fair. She said that for events such as the WIFS Conference and InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit to truly play a bigger role in increasing the number of women in financial services, they need to invite more men to participate in various roles. “The research shows that gender-specific groups and activities are very important to the success of women in financial services. But it’s only part of the strategy," she said. "You can’t tackle the issue of male-male networking by having a conference of just women. Men need to be part of the discussion, the brainstorming, and the solution.”

Oh, and one more thing – the networking.

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