Award-winning investment adviser, Susannah Gray, discusses the challenges and the opportunities for female advisers in a male dominated industry, everyday sexism and how technology is blazing a trail for the future.
Did you know that only 13% of UK financial advisers are female? What kind of message does this give young women looking to make it in the industry? Is this traditionally male dominated industry slowly becoming more gender diverse, or are women still pounding at a double glazed glass ceiling?
We spoke to Susannah Gray, managing partner at Sorbus Partners and winner of the ‘Investment Adviser of the Year’ at the Professional Adviser’s Women in Finance awards, to find out.
This 13% figure does not mean that women on average are not interested in working in the financial sector. Jackie Leiper, distribution director for Scottish Widows, told Cover magazine that their entry level jobs and graduate schemes are often 70% female and 30% male, suggesting that younger women are actually more driven to join the sector.
When you look at middle and senior management, however, the gender gap becomes more prominent. “I think women in financial services have been more visible in admin and back office roles,” says Susannah, “it feels like a terribly stereotypically sexist thing to say, but women are just more visible at a lower level. The majority of people in technical and higher board level positions are still men.”
Is the financial sector sexist? Susannah recalls how it felt to be a 20-something female trying to give financial advice to suspicious clients. “I remember presenting my business card and saying ‘this is my name, I’m qualified to sit and talk to you’ and having people say: ‘are you sure you’re alright to talk to us my dear?’ or ‘are you the secretary that they’ve sent?’
“It was terribly frustrating. I had to explain and justify my position and qualifications much more so than if I had been a middle aged gentleman with a waistcoat, that would have better fitted their perception.”
Are women at a disadvantage in the financial sector? Susannah thinks the lack of female financial advisers could actually benefit women.
“I believe the industry now actually appreciate the values that women bring to it,” she says, “it is now a given that you excel at your core competencies, clients are looking for more and I believe women have a natural skill set in this area.
“We’ve got a number of movements, the 30 by 30 campaign in the US and a number of larger businesses which are looking for more gender diversity on their boards. As a woman, you are somewhat of a rarity in this sector, and the benefits that you bring to both the business and clients are much more recognised. This is something that we fervently believe in within my business”
Initiatives like the Women In Finance Awards are designed to showcase the success that women had in this field and to inspire younger women who may be interested in joining the industry.
Susannah, who won the ‘Investment Adviser Of The Year’ category, says: “It was very exciting that women and the value they bring to the industry was being recognised in this way. It was also very interesting to actually be at an awards dinner for the industry where there were more women than men in the room. It was a very exhilarating and noticeably different environment.”
How does Susannah feel about her win? “I was deeply honoured to even have been nominated and never expected to win. Hopefully (the awards) demonstrate that the industry is recognising the very strong benefits to a gender diverse workforce across the board.”
Times may have changed for the better in terms of sexism, but will changes in technology help or hinder people working in financial advice? The financial sector is founded on relationships, Susannah says, and people want to work with skilled trusted advisers.
Will this stay the same with future generations? Susannah can’t say, but she wants to remain in a situation where technology can be moulded to suit the business rather than businesses being forced to shape themselves around technological changes. Despite saying she doesn’t see herself as inspiring, Susannah does have some inspirational words for young women who might be interested in joining the financial advice sector: “Be yourself and have faith in your abilities and the differences that you bring.”
When asked which women inspire her, Susannah said that she has been inspired by almost every woman she’s met or heard of: “I believe everyone has aspects of themselves that can be inspirational, but certainly women who have, for whatever reason, overcome some adversity and have faith and belief in their own abilities to excel inspire me greatly.”