Marlene Outrim: True adviser diversification needs business culture shift

    Marlene Outrim looks at female diversity in financial services and discusses how adviser businesses can change their culture to help working mothers flourish as financial planners

    I was recently asked my views about diversity in financial services and why there were so few women, not just in senior positions, but generally.

    Since I became an adviser I have often pondered, especially in the early days, when I would be the only women in a sea of men, or sitting at a table of men at PIMS for breakfast I would be asked who I worked for, the assumption being that women didn’t run companies.

    Years later, the scarcity of women still exists, although you do see more women at conferences and workshops – but not that many, and if there are, they are usually in support roles.

    Juggling act

    When I started out, I was a single mother with a 10-year-old, managed to run my business, have a social life, keep active and ran the home. OK, there were times when I was rushed off my feet and without support from family and friends, it might have been more difficult to juggle all these balls. However, having the role of an adviser meant I could plan my own business hours.

    Initially, I was prepared to travel the length and breadth of the country to get a client, but as my confidence and client bank grew, I realised I could have even greater control of my time. Back then I vowed never to miss any of my daughter’s events and I didn’t.

    Admittedly, being the boss is a huge factor, but even so, there are responsibilities you cannot avoid and commitments you have to keep in terms of meetings, deadlines and paperwork.

    Apart from that, I have never considered myself unequal to any man (or woman for that matter) so maybe it could be a case of education and upbringing that influences women’s decisions about working in financial services.

    Historically, it has been seen a male-dominated area of work, but still, I ask: “Why don’t more women take up this type of work when the flexible hours it offers would enable them to, if not have it all, most of it?”

    Making it work

    Where you are an employee of a business, it is likely that the flexibility and support may not be so great, but in today’s present climate surely employers can create means to accommodate working mothers as well as the needs of their business?

    In 2017, McKinsey & Co published a report, “Reinventing the workplace for greater gender diversity” and established three game-changers which distinguish best-in-class companies:

    • Persistence. It takes time to effect tangible, sustainable results
    • CEO commitment, cascading down to all management levels. Companies that have built gender diversity successfully at the leadership level are twice as likely to place gender diversity among the top three priorities on their strategic agenda, to have strong support from the top and management, and to integrate gender diversity at all levels of the organisation
    • Comprehensive transformation programs. Best-in-class companies have initiated change programmes that ingrain gender diversity in all aspects of the business

    Our company has never sought to be all-female but have employed the people we thought were best for the roles.

    It just turns out that we only have one man at present (soon to be two) out of 10 employees and an all-woman board, with three of the members being mothers with young children. We operate flexible working as far as we can, especially for anyone with children or parents who need care and we encourage career and personal development for all who want it, regardless of role.

    My own experience as a working mother keeps me mindful of those pressures and demands but if we want a rich and creative environment that many women bring (and I’m not saying men don’t, but occasionally it is assumed that women may just want a job and not a career).

    The McKinsey report believes: “It will take government and business-led interventions to create an environment that offers women better opportunities; enables them to train for and work in skilled, better-paying roles; reshapes social norms and attitudes; and supports work/life balance. To achieve this, companies will need to transform themselves by revaluating their traditional performance models and by challenging the long-term viability of their prevailing leadership styles”.

    Whatever your gender, can you play your part in the change for female diversity?

    Marlene Outrim is managing director of Uniq Family Wealth