How One Financial Advisor is Overcoming Gender Barriers Within the Financial World

From getting your voice heard to building female-friendly working patterns, Sophia Lerche-Thomsen shares the challenges of navigating a male-dominated space

WORDS BY
Sophia Lerche-Thomsen
Published
January 19, 2024
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Voices
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I fell into wealth management whilst studying Economics at the University of Bath 10 years ago. I remember looking at the list of company names offering third year undergraduates a 12-month placement and the majority were investment banks. Whilst for some, investment banking can be a rewarding career choice, I knew it wasn't for me as I had heard stories of people working long hours and weekends and I valued my time far too much. I ended up choosing to do my placement year at a family-run wealth management company in London through the process of elimination (i.e. avoiding investment banks) and thankfully I did. Because it marked the start of what would become a rewarding, but also challenging, career in this industry. 

After my placement year. I joined Schroders Investment Management on their summer internship and subsequent graduate programme once I finished University - where I completed my professional exams and became a Chartered Financial Analyst during the hardest two years of my life combining work and study – a challenge in and of itself.

But with perseverance and discipline, I was determined to succeed. I would wake up at 5am to take an early morning spin class, commute to the office, study for an hour, work an 8am to 6pm day, then attend my evening study class which would end at 10pm. And of course, the commute home, sleep and then repeat. The sacrifices I had to make were huge. I would say no to spending time with friends and family just so I could get the career I wanted off the ground. But in all honesty, it was worth it.

I always wanted to spend time abroad and applied to move with Schroders to Dubai where I spent several years servicing clients across the Middle East. On returning to the UK due to Covid-19, I decided to re-train as a Financial Adviser. The reason I chose to become a Financial Adviser is to help close the gender wealth gap. Only 17% of advisers in the UK are women – and this number has barely budged in 20 years. I knew that in order to encourage more women to invest, we need more female advisers. I am really proud that over 80% of my clients are female.  

But whilst my work is extremely fulfilling, I have been met with my fair share of obstacles along the way.

1. Getting my voice heard at the table

It’s no surprise that the majority of group meetings I attend continue to be male dominated. Over the years I’ve learnt to find my voice in these situations, but I would be lying if I said it doesn’t continue to be a daily challenge. I’m a naturally shy person (an extroverted introvert) and when I used to speak up, my face would often go red! The unfortunate part is that I would therefore avoid speaking up out of fear that this very reaction would taint my credibility.

I was determined to do something about it! So I worked with a Business Coach who helped me build my self-confidence and taught me a tool to avoid the trigger of going red. It’s all about deep breaths and when I have a thought or question I’d like to bring to the table, I count “3, 2, 1 go” in my head before talking myself out of it. And now before I know it, I’m speaking, and my voice is being heard.

My Business Coach also taught me the importance of speaking with clarity and tone and body language and I believe that learning to effectively communicate has been key in my career progression within investment management.

"It’s great to see so many women creating a work schedule that works for them"

2. Constructing a female-friendly work pattern

It’s not exactly something that we often talk about, but the truth is that women’s energy levels ebb and flow throughout the month, unlike men’s which remains relatively consistent. I personally found it difficult to maintain this lifestyle and in my attempt to conform to the patriarchal working culture, I ended up being diagnosed with burnout and taking time off work to recover from the mental and physical strain I put myself through.

This experience was eye opening! I learnt that I no longer wanted to operate in the traditional 9 to 5 model (not to forget the overtime I was working). So I made the brave decision to go freelance, which has enabled me to manage my own time as a woman accordingly.

I’ve learnt that some days I’m able to tackle five or more meetings head on, but on other days I accept that down time is my number one priority. It’s this flexibility which will also set me up in being present for my children (when that time comes) alongside growing a business I’m proud of. I’ve found that a lot of my female clients are self-employed or business owners for this exact reason. It’s great to see so many women creating a work schedule that works for them - not the patriarchal model which burns many women into the ground!

(Photo: Andrea De Santis/Unsplash)

3. Focussing on credentials

I’m lucky to say that I’ve worked with some incredible male bosses and colleagues who have supported and elevated my career and propelled me to where I am today. That being said, I’ve had countless shares of uncomfortable situations, one of which including a colleague who used to tap my head every time he walked past (a not-so-subtle dig to the fact I am 5ft 2) and received countless comments about my appearance – from men who instructed I wear heels to client meetings and wear my hair down.  

These experiences have made me extremely conscious of being female in a predominantly male industry. And although it’s improving, I’m acutely aware of my relatively young age of 29, when the average Financial Adviser in the UK is 59. The truth is, I continue to surprise some prospective clients when I turn up for our initial meeting! But I sought to overcome this by obtaining the top credentials in my industry. So with that, I became a Chartered Financial Analyst. And yes, only 19% of CFA holders are women so we still have some way to go.

Empowering women into the financial world

As with any industry, diversity of gender, thought, race, socioeconomics is crucial! And particularly in the world of wealth management, it’s no secret that we need more women (and diversity in general) to reflect our diverse client base. If we want to encourage more women to invest, female Financial Advisers are a must. Why? Because clients need mentors who they can relate to and empower them along the journey.

So to the women wanting to enter the world of financial services, there has never been a better time to take the plunge and claim your seat! It was only in 1975 that women relied on a male signature in order to open a bank account. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then and financial services are welcoming more and more women into the workplace.

And remember this: you don’t have to conform to a man’s world. Being a woman is your superpower and whilst it is often overlooked, there’s no doubt you can claim your own seat. Ceilings are being smashed and progress is being made and I’m proud to be part of that change. You can too.

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