Women and men don't always have the same wants and needs when it comes to careers. Women in particular may seek scheduling flexibility that allows them to care for their children and spend time with their families, assurance that they'll be able to advance even in male-dominated workplaces; and the feeling that they're making a positive impact on people's lives. While you might think of finance as an industry with long hours, lots of testosterone and too much stress, many women have found it to be one that allows them to achieve success, satisfaction and work-life balance. Here are four finance careers that real women say allow them to achieve these goals.
Melissa Joy, CFP, is the director of investments and a partner with the Southfield, Mich., Center for Financial Planning. Her firm manages more than $500 million in its discretionary investment program, and she develops and implements discretionary investment models for hundreds of clients. “As a partner, I also sit on the firm's operations committee and help to run the business,” she says.
Joy says asset management is a great career track for women, especially when they work with boutique, independent companies like she does, where there are fewer gender barriers than in traditional wirehouses. What’s more, while the asset management field is still male dominated, says Joy, “you can stand out as a woman, and if you can prove yourself, there are great opportunities for advancement.”
There are several reasons why Joy says asset management is a great career track for women:
- Boutique wealth management firms can offer significant flexibility. The workplace culture can be more family friendly and your merit is not determined by exorbitant hours worked.
- It's a great creative outlet, which many women may enjoy.
- The need for asset managers to serve women is growing.
- The work is truly rewarding. “You're helping people achieve their life goals. It doesn't get much better than that,” Joy says.
- As a partner, Joy says she impacts the lives of the company’s clients and employees through her decisions.
Some women might find particular aspects of Joy’s job challenging. She says that working in a boutique wealth management firm has required her to wear many hats, but she looked at this situation as an opportunity to prove her value early in her career. “I really feel that the variety of projects and issues helped me in the long run even though it could have been intimidating,” she says.
On the downside, “Because wealth management practices are often small businesses, you may not have the same opportunities when it comes to employee benefits such as paid maternity leave or tuition reimbursement,” Joy says. “To me, the price for less of these types of benefits is paid back with a more open playing field and less of a glass ceiling.”
Investment Advisor Representative
Diane Zing is the vice president of investments in the Denver office of Trilogy Financial Services. She is a fully licensed Investment Advisor Representative, holding her Series 6, 7, 63 and 65 securities licenses, along with health, life and long-term care insurance licenses. Zing’s work focuses on comprehensive planning that involves investment management, protection planning and wealth-transfer strategies for individuals, families and small-to-medium sized companies.
For women seeking a career in the financial services industry, Zing recommends focusing not only on what skills they have, but also what kind of environment they want to be in. “Every firm within the industry has its own style; its own perception of integrity, client service and expertise,” she says. Women should consider what kind of work-life balance they need, then look for the type of position and the company that can meet those needs.
Zing sees advantages to being a woman in her field, particularly in the area of communicating with clients. She says a woman’s sensitivity and empathy can be more comfortable for many clients. The same traits that some see as an advantage, others might see as a disadvantage, however. Zing says some clients might see a woman advisor as possibly unreliable if they believe they rank below a woman’s other priorities, such as her home, spouse or partner and children. “They believe we are trying to manage a business and manage a household all at the same time. And while many of us do,” she says, "clients sometimes measure a woman’s success at balancing both aspects of her life without her opinion or feedback."
She says women can overcome these negative stereotypes by being professional to the utmost in how they dress, in their body language, in their speech and in their attentiveness to clients. “Casualness from a male counterpart sometimes gets considered as ‘confident’; casualness from a female in the same role sometimes gets labeled as ‘unprofessional’,” Zing says.
Money Manager and Investment Advisor
Laurie Itkin started her career climbing the corporate ladder, then decided to launch her own business based on her passion for investing in the stock market. “I launched The Options Lady to inspire, educate and empower women to become successful self-directed investors in the stock and options market,” she says. “I have two facets of my job. Through my coaching business, The Options Lady, I teach clients how to trade in self-directed accounts. I am also a licensed investment advisor and manage clients' money if they don't have the time or inclination to manage it themselves,” Itkin says.
Itkin wants to encourage women to learn about the stock market and not be afraid of it because she knows so many professional women, even lawyers, doctors and corporate executives, who have their money sitting in a money market account earning minimal interest simply because they don’t know what to do with it. One advantage for women working in her field, Itkin says, is that “recent studies show that women make better traders than men because we are more risk-averse, do our research before we jump in and follow the rules.”
There are many things she likes about her job that other women may find similarly appealing: “My practice focuses on women and that means I'm involved in networking, community and charitable activities with other women,” Itkin says. And in addition to the satisfaction she says she gets from helping women learn how to generate monthly income by writing covered calls and from inspiring women to take control of their financial futures, Itkin enjoys having a job where no one tells her she needs to sit at a desk from nine to five. “Many women would love having a job where they spend time socializing with other women and have flexibility to work out, pick up the kids and prepare dinner,” she says.
The downside is that “lots of women feel uncomfortable working a room, so building a client base might be difficult for them,” says Itkin. But, she says, “I feel very comfortable entering a room full of people I don't know and making new connections.”
Zaneilia Harris is a fee-only financial planner and the owner and president of her firm, Harris and Harris Wealth Management. She develops portfolios for clients that position their assets for changing market conditions so they don’t need to constantly monitor their investments or the market.
Like Zing, Harris sees opportunities in her profession for women to differentiate themselves from men in the way women approach client interactions.
“I feel that we may listen more to our clients’ needs and not take the stance of dictating a choice to clients,” Harris says. “We may exhibit more of the softer qualities, such as compassion, understanding, patience and empathy, which can be key when clients have been through a devastating event.”
Female financial planners can face challenges in their work, however. Exhibiting softer traits can make women be considered “too soft,” Harris says. What’s more, “I feel being in a male-dominated environment can be intimidating. You have to have a thick skin and handle rejection well,” Harris says, and you cannot allow others to force their opinions on you. “When you feel you are right, stick to your guns, especially when you have the research behind you.”
The challenges can pay off. “I feel being a financial planner is rewarding in ways greater than just money. It has allowed me the flexibility to be available for my daughter and family. Also, I get to help people that need me,” Harris says. “Lastly, I get to establish my own terms for my business and its direction. I am not saying it is not hard work, because it is. But there is satisfaction knowing you are in the right place doing what you enjoy.”
The Bottom Line
Although finance has traditionally been a male-dominated field, women can not only excel and stand out but also strike the right work-life balance in financial careers ranging from asset and investment advice and management to financial planning. “I think there are huge opportunities for women to work in the financial field if they are smart, self-motivated, analytical and empathic,” Itkin says. “Women think differently about money than men. If you can build trust and credibility with potential female clients by listening to their needs and taking the time to educate them, they will become lifelong loyal clients.”