Some thoughts on the gender gap in financial services

Hollie Fagan, head of BlackRock's RIA business, spoke to Jane Newton, founder of the RegentAtlantic Wall Street Women Forum®, about the challenges and successes women have had on Wall Street.

One perk of my job is that I have the opportunity to speak to some really interesting people shaping the financial industry today. I recently had a conversation with Jane Newton, Managing Partner and Wealth Advisor at RegentAtlantic, and the founder of the RegentAtlantic Wall Street Women Forum. We spoke about the impact of the recession on job prospects in the financial services industry, and what it takes for women to succeed in the changing landscape.

What is the RegentAtlantic Wall Street Women Forum, and how has it helped women in the real world?

Newton: RegentAtlantic hosts invitation-only events for high-level women working on Wall Street. In addition to providing a unique opportunity for women to network across all sectors of the industry, our events focus on helping these already accomplished women advance their careers. Forum speakers share strategies and tactics to address key challenges such as building a personal brand, powering up our meeting presence and mastering the art of influence.

The forum continues to make an impact beyond the events. For example, one attendee was up for a significant promotion. Her boss casually suggested that she get to know a handful of people who’d be involved in that decision. Partly inspired by our keynote speech, she overcame her initial apprehension, took herself out of her comfort zone and had the meetings. It worked; she got the promotion and built rapport with influential people.

Based on your experience working with so many women in finance, what are some of their most common and pressing concerns?

Newton: One thing I hear often is that many women are concerned about how to stay relevant in the fast-changing financial services landscape. This concerns both genders, but women want help in reinventing themselves.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman. The key is versatility, learning to adapt no matter how the industry changes. Imagine someone who’s been in the industry for 20 years and worked at various big banks. Each time they changed jobs, they had to build new relationships and a new network, and learn to navigate in a new culture. Being willing to change is how we stay relevant and current. Now imagine a specialist in mortgage-backed securities (MBS), who worked in that field for 15 years before it imploded in 2008. The MBS segment has actually come back but in a different way since then. I know many who have found opportunities in this new and very different MBS space because of their willingness to make changes and drive to stay ahead of the curve. These are the same skills and mindsets that the forum hones in on.

How has the financial services industry changed since the recession, and how do women fare in the changed landscape?

Newton: We asked in our annual survey: Since 2008, are there more opportunities for women to make it to the top in Wall Street? Forty-one percent of the respondents said yes in 2016, which is up significantly from a low point in 2013 but still far from optimistic.


Some effects of the 2008 financial crisis linger today and continue to weigh on the fundamental structure of the financial services industry. We’ve seen many women leave prominent positions on the Street, so naturally many women ask, If it didn’t work for them, how will it work for me? Another critical factor is that the industry has markedly consolidated since the recession. This means fewer seats at the top, and unfortunately that has translated to fewer women in those seats.

What is the solution? Sometimes it’s a matter of better positioning ourselves, or challenging ourselves to take on a new role. Whether that means staying within your firm or moving from a larger firm to a smaller firm and back again, or launching a startup company, the key again is versatility.

Despite the call for more women in the financial services industry, the current gender gap reflects a disconnect. Have you seen that in your own experience?

Newton: There’s no question we need more senior-level women in financial services, as well as more female financial advisors. Looking specifically at financial advisors, research shows that only 30% are women, and I would certainly love to change that. I believe women are naturally well suited for these roles. Great advisors are skilled in building relationships, establishing trust and solving problems — things that a lot of women are good at.

Hollie Fagan is the Head of BlackRock’s Registered Investment Advisor business.

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