Wealth management has big issues with gender equality, claims Larry Schaefer, owner and president of discrimination-focused law firm Schaefer Halleen. It's well-known that there are far fewer women in the financial advice space than men, and some firms treat big producing male advisors like they walk on water, Shaefer says. He implies that male advisors who perform above expectations are not held to the same standards as their female counterparts, and at some firms may receive special treatment. But gender inequality might not just exist in how the best advisors are treated -- it may also be prevalent in how bad actors are punished.
According to a working paper entitled ‘When Harry Fired Sally,’ women advisors experience higher rates of job separation than their male counterparts for misconduct violations occurring at the same firm, time, and location – even if they have the same qualifications and experience as the men.
The study was co-authored by Amit Seru, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; Gregor Matvos, professor at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, and Mark Egan, assistant professor at Harvard Business School.
Male advisors make up 75% of the total advice industry. And about one in 10 male FAs has, on average, at least one misconduct violation on their Finra BrokerCheck record, versus one in 33 female FAs, the study shows. Yet female advisors are still 20% more likely to lose their job than their male counterparts across the U.S. Additionally, the study reveals that misconduct committed by male FAs is, on average, costlier for their associated firms: specifically, male FA misconduct tends to cost their firm 20% more to settle, the study reveals.
The study authors assert that underrepresentation of women advisors in management positions is the primary cause of the apparent bias against women FAs with misconduct marks.
“Male executives tend to be more forgiving of misconduct by men relative to women,” the study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, states. In fact, women FAs at firms without female representation at the executive level are 42% more likely to be terminated after a misconduct incident than their male counterparts. And the imbalance in firing practices of male versus female executives towards advisors of the opposite gender is due to “mis-calibrated beliefs [from] stereotyping,” the paper suggests.
Imbalanced firing practices don’t solely affect non-management advisors, Ariane Hegewisch, program director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says. There is research showing women in senior management-level positions at advice firms are also dismissed faster than their male counterparts, she claims.
Women FAs brought into senior management positions tend to be put into situations where their predecessor underperformed, apparently leaving them to deal with the resultant situation which, Hegewisch says, can be difficult to overcome.
Gender discrepancies in advisor discipline add to the image issues the advice industry faces with women who, a CFP Board study says, don’t want to become financial advisors. The CFP Board study – probing public opinion – reveals only 22% of women outside of the wealth management industry report being “very familiar” with financial planning and, according to the study, generally don’t want to become financial advisors. And perceived or real cultural biases against female advisors factor into dissuading women from pursuing careers as advisors, the researchers believe. Only 29% of women respondents said financial firms make women financial planners feel welcomed and respected as compared to their male counterparts.