My client looked around the table, first at me and then at the two women CFP® professionals on my team and asked good-naturedly, “Do any men work in this firm?”

We all had a good laugh, and I reminded him that three of the four names on the door belonged to my male partners.  I also shared with him that in this respect, our firm was pretty “average” in the financial planning profession:  slightly fewer than one in four CFP® professionals are women. This ratio has been static for several years.

The statistic has serious implications.  The demand for financial planners is growing, as more and more consumers realize the importance of seeking professional advice on managing their finances. But this demand may not be met unless more women, in substantially greater numbers, become CFP® professionals. And it is also important that the population of CFP® professionals more closely reflect the demographics of the public they serve.

As my client’s wife commented later in our discussion: “I think it’s great that there are women I can talk to!”

In an earlier blog, I shared my own story as to why I thought being a CFP® professional was such a great career choice for me and for women in general.  I see myself as providing an essential service – as critical to the well-being of consumers as the service provided by physicians – and would describe my work as more about relationships than numbers. Based on my experience, it makes no sense that more women are not attracted to this profession.

This seeming paradox was one of the reasons why in 2013 CFP Board launched the Women’s Initiative.  CFP Board wanted to understand the reasons for the underrepresentation of women in financial planning, as the first step toward its goal of increasing the number of women CFP® professionals.

CFP Board surveyed every professional and academic population that had a stake in the issue of female representation in financial planning.  These groups included CFP® professionals, financial professionals without the CFP® certification, financial firm executives, students in CFP Board-Registered programs, the directors of these programs, and other students in majors related to finance.  All the groups were balanced between women and men respondents.

Given the number and diversity of the respondents, the survey yielded a wealth of insights into what has been called the “feminine famine” among CFP® professionals.  On April 22, CFP Board released a white paper based on the research findings, “Making More Room for Women in the Financial Planning Profession,” at a Women’s Initiative event in NYC.  As discussed in detail in the paper and summarized here, CFP Board identified six primary barriers preventing women from becoming financial planners and attaining their CFP® certification:

  • Financial planning and CFP® certification are not “top of mind” career choices for women as compared to men.  Women’s lack of familiarity with the profession correlates with lack of interest in becoming a CFP® professional – an unsurprising but nevertheless fundamental finding.

  • Women who on the “outside” of the profession misperceive what financial planning entails and what it takes to be a successful financial planner.  In particular, these women believe that selling financial products and understanding financial markets are the essence of planning, as opposed to taking a holistic, open approach to helping clients achieve their goals.

  • Women’s propensity to avoid both career risk and advocating for themselves are factors believed by many – including women themselves – holding them back when it comes to entering or advancing in the financial planning profession.

  • Gender bias and discrimination exist with the financial planning profession, likely resulting in women feeling unwelcome and unsupported.  The most egregious bias seems to exist in the hiring and compensation of women financial planners, even when it is generally acknowledged that women make excellent financial planners.

  • Work-life balance is less of an issue for women entering the financial planning profession than it is for the firms hiring them.  Women see themselves as quite able to manage a financial planning career while meeting personal and family commitments, but employers are still more concerned about women’s dedication to their careers than they are about men’s.

  • The lack of female role models, women’s support networks, and professional development efforts targeted to women is limiting the number of women entering the financial planning profession.

With these findings in hand, CFP Board will now direct its efforts to doing what it can to make the financial planning profession better known and understood by women, and more welcoming and supportive.  It will also be calling on financial planning firms, professional associations, industry providers, and men and women professionals to partner in these efforts.  In this way, CFP Board intends to serve as a leader and catalyst in bringing gender parity to the financial planning profession, as part of its ongoing mission to set the highest standards of fairness and integrity for CFP® professionals.

Now that more and more women have financial goals and resources of their own to manage, it’s time that more women become CFP® professionals to help with these important decisions.  To learn more about what CFP Board learned in its research study, please visit cfp.net/win