The #MeToo movement that began in late 2017 imposed a magnifying glass on a nearly invisible epidemic of sexual harassment against women across all walks of life and throughout various industries. Prominent and powerful men have been called on the carpet for behavior that until now has long been ignored, hushed, and/or silenced with millions of dollars.
In March 2018, Andrew Welsch wrote an article for Financial-Planning.com to address the issue of sexual harassment in wealth management. The article noted that when it came to sexual misconduct, the wealth management industry was pinpointed as the worst. Women in wealth management said that they had personally experienced unwelcome sexual misconduct in the workplace, such as inappropriate questions or comments, demeaning nicknames, jokes, innuendos, and even retaliation.
Men and women often see things differently. Thus, in many cases, the simple definition or explanation of sexual harassment may be different between the genders. This disparity led one female advisor in the article to say: “I think the men just don’t know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”
Not surprisingly, the permeating attitude of male dominance in wealth management extends beyond the walls of individual firms. For example, in 2017 there was an incident in New York’s financial district that went viral on social media. As part of a campaign to encourage more companies to add women to their boards, State Street Global Advisors placed what became known as The Fearless Girl statue in front of Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull. The Fearless Girl sculpture gained national recognition as an empowering image for women. Within a few short days, however, a photo of a young man in a suit appearing to be sexually engaged with the girl statue went viral. What message does this photographic insult send to women and girls around the country? What’s on the welcome mat for women on Wall Street?
This is NOT what the wealth management industry needs if indeed there is a desire to attract more women to the profession. In fact, some women we’ve spoken to find it difficult to recommend the financial advisor profession to women they know. That alone speaks volumes. If the culture and work environment are to change to become more supportive for women, change must start at the top and be supported by male, influential champions throughout the industry who are willing to stand up and speak out. Nothing changes unless something changes.
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