In many cases, advisors don’t tend to be particularly tuned in to the finer points of pop culture. And why would they be? Their clients are usually older, and there’s little need to stay abreast of the latest cultural trends. But every once in awhile, a catchy bit of slang comes along that perfectly encapsulates an idea the collective consciousness has been trying to wrap its head around for some time.
And as Donald Trump publicly fumbled his way through nearly every interaction with a female during the 2016 election season, one of these phrases suddenly became ubiquitous: mansplaining. Mansplaining is when a male explains something to a female in a patronizing or condescending way – something that many advisors may have ample opportunities to do. It’s an easy habit to fall into, but it’s poison for any advisor trying to attract female clientele. (For more, see: What Women Want From A Financial Advisor.)
Curious how mansplaining might be affecting your practice and how to stop? Read on to find out.
Why Mansplaining Matters
Currently, the financial planning industry is heavily skewed towards men. Despite a growing number of female professionals in other fields like law and medicine, men still dominate financial advice. An article in Financial Advisor Magazine pointed out that only 14% of advisors and brokers are women, while less than 25% of Certified Financial Planners (CFP) are female. Women are also less likely to use an advisor. If they have one bad experience with a mansplaining financial planner, they may be unlikely to try again.
CFP Sophia Bera of Gen Y Planning agrees that many male financial advisors and planners remain biased against women. “I've heard male advisors make really general statements about working with women like, ‘I talk to my female clients about their families, and my male clients about their portfolios,’” she said.
How to Avoid Mansplaining
You don’t have to be biased against women to make this mistake – in many ways, it’s ingrained in our culture. Here are strategies you can use to provide a more respectful experience to all your clients.
Ask questions. Mansplaining often happens when advisors assume their clients have little to no knowledge about their finances. Instead of making erroneous presumptions, ask questions before you start making suggestions. You can avoid being condescending if you don’t tell your clients what they already know. Bera recommends advisors “clarify things as needed rather than bulldoze the conversation.”
Use layman’s terms instead of jargon. Using complicated words can confuse clients and make them feel like you’re patronizing them. Bera says some advisors use technical language to talk down to clients. Instead, explain things in simple terms without treating the client like a child. (For more, see: Advisors: Your Women Clients Are Not All the Same.)
Avoid shame or guilt. Making someone feel bad is one of the best ways to ensure they don’t become repeat clients. Shame is a powerful emotion, and if a client starts to feel judged they probably won’t visit you again. If your client is severely behind on saving for retirement, don’t harangue them. Advisors should make their clients feel empowered, not embarrassed.
Don’t interrupt. One trait viewers noticed during the presidential debates was how often Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton – 51 times during the first debate. An advisor’s job is to listen to their client’s needs and concerns. If you interrupt them, you’ll instill the idea that you don’t care what they say or think. (For more, see: How Advisors Can Improve Rapport with Women Clients.)
Watch your body language. One of the many aspects of Trump’s behavior that people have noticed is his domineering body language. During the debates he frequently spoke loudly, pouted and displayed excessive aggressiveness. Staying calm and measured can help you avoid making female clients feel uncomfortable in your presence.
Call out others. Bera said she’s personally witnessed the “old boys’ club” mentality many senior financial planners have. At a recent conference, an older planner interrupted a conversation she and another female planner were having. “I don't condone that behavior, but there's not much I can do about it since he doesn't consider me an equal,” she said. “When things start changing is when other men call out their peers (men) on their poor behavior.”
The Bottom Line
Even if you consider yourself a progressive feminist, you may still be guilty of mansplaining. Ask your coworkers if you tend to interrupt, sound condescending or seem disrespectful. They’ll be glad to help if you make it clear you want to learn how to better serve your clients.
You can also send out anonymous surveys to your female clients to gauge their reactions. The results may help you learn how to become a better advisor and avoid language that turns away these clients. It may sound like nothing more than a snappy catchphrase, but the idea behind mansplaining isn’t going away. Women have never liked being condescended to – now they just have an easier way to say it. (For more, see: Appealing to Women Clients: 5 Tips for Financial Advisors.)