Should My Firm “Showcase” Its Female Partners?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I am one of five partners at an advisory firm and the only female. We have support staff who are women, but in terms of advisors, it is only me. I get paraded out whenever there are important prospects or firm-wide client events.
I get tired of being the token person. I understand the firm is trying to show its commitment to diversity, but to be asked to participate in things largely because I am a woman gets old.
I’m not a limelight person. I don’t enjoy public events. I prefer meeting one-on-one with clients. I realize this is part of the PR I have to do, but is there a gracious way to let my partners know this gets irritating?
I’m concerned if I say something, because they are men and they will have no clue what I am talking about, and it will reflect negatively on me. Do I keep my mouth closed and ignore it, or do I take a chance they will actually “hear” me and respect my view?
This is not the first time I have heard this from women in our business. Recently, I was engaged in a diversity effort for a large firm and one of the diverse candidates told me that her days were filled with “being the token person” on panels to speak at groups and to interact with clients. She explained she felt an obligation to speak on behalf of women and people with different ethnic backgrounds, but that she believed it pointed out just how dire the need really is. “Why am I the only one they have to showcase?” she asked me several times.
I don’t know your partners at all so will assume they have positive intentions . They could believe you have a lot to share and you are overall a credible individual to put in front of the team and clients. Consider the possibility that they are not choosing you because you are a woman. It’s possible this is your suspicion but not necessarily the truth.
If you have lots of evidence that they are choosing you because you are a woman, have the conversation with them and see if they can hear you appropriately. I’m not a fan of keeping something simmering inside that makes a person upset. One way or another, it works its way to the surface. Keeping your mouth shut when this happens over and over again is not the best thing for the health of your relationships with your partners.
Open the dialogue on what other things the firm could be doing overall to attract diverse advisor candidates. Maybe approaching them using inquiry – “Have you thought about ways we could increase the diversity within the firm?” might be a better way to open the discussion.
If you don’t believe your partners would be open for this type of discussion, approach this from the perspective that you just don’t like public events and public speaking and would prefer to do less of it. Or, you could say you are becoming overly busy with client issues and just don’t have the time or bandwidth. That’s what the woman I opened the response with ended up doing; she communicated to her leadership that she was doing more than a full-time job already and didn’t have the time to focus on these events too. Her management understood and respected this and stopped asking her to participate.
If one more of my male colleagues comes in and asks me what’s wrong with one of our female team members just because I am a woman and they think we all look, act and think the same, I’m going to scream. They will often open with, “I just thought since you’re a female you might understand what’s going on.”
Most of the time I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t get in other people’s business and I don’t expect anyone to get in mine.
Sometimes the person is a peer so I feel comfortable telling them I have no idea what is going on with our mutual colleague. But from time to time it is an advisor very senior to me and I don’t want to make unnecessary waves. But my blood is boiling once they walk out of my office.
Is there a proper way to say, “I’m not the every woman resource at the firm?
Have you asked your colleagues or your leadership, using professional language and courtesy, why they believe that just because you are a woman, you would understand the minds of other women? Ask them if they understand the mind of every single man they have ever worked with in their career? If you suggest they apply the same litmus to their own situation – “Do you realize I never come and ask you about (insert male colleague’s name here) and why he does what he does, and yet you come and ask me about someone I don’t interact with on a regular basis? Why do you think that is?” they might see the experience through your lens.
It will be important – as hard as it is – to refrain from being sarcastic or critical in your delivery. People in cases like these are well-meaning; they just have low EQ (read my article from last week on this topic). They don’t have self-awareness or social awareness and they don’t understand how the delivery could be insulting or irksome to you.
Sometimes asking someone a question and delivering it with sincere curiosity helps them to think about something and saves you the trouble of having to point it out.
For men, women often do get rolled into one group – I’ve seen us referred to as a “niche market” – in the 2020 census women made up 52.52% of the total, so that is actually a dominant number, not a niche! Yes, men often view all women the same and believe we have the same reactions, same beliefs and same approaches to things. Keep this in mind and give your colleagues a bit of a break. They might just need to be gently reminded or informed this isn’t the case and if they really want to know what is going on with another colleague, it’s best to ask the colleague him/herself rather than seek out information from others. This is generally good practice in any firm, large or small.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.