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What is holding women back in New Zealand and Australia’s financial advising industry?


A collaborative study by the University of Otago and RMIT University Melbourne has explored reasons for the low level of women in New Zealand and Australia’s financial advising industry.

Females constitute only 20 per cent of Australian and 23.5 per cent of New Zealand Financial Advising Professionals (FAPs).

The study looked into the organisational structures of workplaces, advisers’ preferences, and stereotypical discrimination. Co-authors Dr Helen Roberts and Associate Professor Ros Whiting of Otago and Dr Daniel Richards of RMIT, then identified barriers for women, and the adaptive strategies they employ to overcome them.

Dr Roberts, of the University of Otago’s Department of Accountancy and Finance, says competitive sales-based structures, servicing client needs, difficulties networking, a dominant masculine management culture and the gendered nature of flexible work inhibit women’s careers in financial advice.

“These factors aren’t necessarily wrong from an employment law perspective, however we’ve discovered they significantly impact career progression and job satisfaction for female advisers,” Dr Roberts says.

“Women we spoke to talked about barriers such as male dominated networking events being uncomfortable experiences as they often centered around alcohol. Those type of events might work well for men in a male-dominated industry, however for a female adviser they are often a negative experience, and the women prefer to network in other ways,” Associate Professor Whiting adds.

Another area of concern was the impact of females often being the primary caregiver for family, which may create difficulties in building long-term client bases and restricts their ability to take part in networking opportunities scheduled after hours.

Dr Richards says strategies to overcome these barriers are “finding the ‘right’ manager, receiving mentoring, selective networking and establishing a partnership arrangement with another adviser.”

The study identifies action points that can facilitate growth in female FAP industry participation for both Australia and NZ:

  • The industry could normalise temporary part-time work opportunities for all employees and provide a defined route for advancement from a part-time position to an advising role.
  • Adviser partnerships (already operating in NZ) enhance work-life balance and should be considered in Australia.
  • The removal of conflicted remuneration in Australia and/or an option for fixed compensation may encourage female FAP participation.
  • Providing a variety of networking opportunities will allow females to choose a suitable time and environment to participate.
  • Senior management needs to actively promote changes in culture to champion female recruitment and retention.
  • Industry leaders and fellow FAPs need to develop strategies that allow women FAP’s selective networking techniques to flourish and ensure they build strong client bases.  

The authors highlight that as there are now greater proportions of female investors and independent retirement savings planning, there is strong potential for female advisers as well as the organisations they represent to thrive if conditions were more suitable.

The qualitative study analysed 32 in-depth interviews of female and male financial advisers from Australia (17) and New Zealand (15). Titled; “Female Financial Advisers ­– Where Art Thou,” it has been published in the Australian Journal of Management, here.