Coronavirus stress tests strength of women’s network

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One day in April, more than 40 Dynasty Financial Partners’ women advisors and staff turned away from their portfolios and newsfeeds to virtually attend the firm’s women’s network gathering.

With the coronavirus pandemic tearing through the country, it was a particularly strong showing, with members hungry to learn and share ideas about supporting their clients, their colleagues and themselves during the crisis.

Though CEO Shirl Penney couldn’t have imagined this particular circumstance when he helped develop the Dynasty Women's Network about three years ago, the kind of mutual support the coronavirus outbreak engendered was just what he had in mind.

Dynasty Financial Partners founder and CEO Shirl Penney

“The initiative allows people to get together and talk about some really important issues,” Penney told me during an interview at Dynasty’s New York City office earlier this year. “It’s a confidential, safe environment.”

In a still male-dominated industry, the network likely benefits the company overall by adding more women into the mix.

“I'm really proud to say that in an industry that's still sub-20% women in financial services and wealth management, Dynasty is roughly 45% female,” Penney said.

The following is an edited and condensed version of our discussion.

Why is a women’s network so important?

There's just one mission, one goal, one agenda, which is to advance females in our profession. If you take a half a step back, the country is financially sick. Seventy percent of Americans can't put their hands on $500 in an emergency. And we're not attracting new financial advisors in the space. We need to do as much as we can to encourage more people to come into the profession. We have a talent gap right now and it’s on all of us to act on it.

What other goals do you have?

You have to bring the thought to action. At the end of those gatherings, what are the two or three things that we're now going to bring to action? We have everyone kind of checking in with each other to make sure that we're advancing toward the “taking action” work.

What else has Dynasty done to support women?

We’ve tried to develop very specific, tailored professional development programs. We’ve had a number of women come in and say, ‘I want more dedicated training around public speaking.’ And we've created those types of programs.

Does Dynasty have a formal mentorship program?

We've built a very robust mentor program designed to advance the career of a number of our young women. It's an annual program. Everyone needs a minimum of 90 minutes a month [devoted to it]. There are very specific goals or objectives that the mentor and mentee have [to demonstrate] at the end of 12 months. We also have a committee that's focused on broader diversity. From a budgeting standpoint, for a firm of our size, we actually have a fairly substantial budget allocated to driving these initiatives.

What is the budget?

We don't share our financials. I can just say it's a meaningful line item as a percentage of our revenue that goes to human resources, talent development and diversity focused initiatives.

How do you measure success?

The ultimate proof is looking at the success we are having with people coming up through the organization, their longevity, the fact we're attracting more and more female-owned businesses or female-led businesses to our platform. That feels like the initiatives are starting to work.

But I would say we have to do more. It's tough. We're all busy. We're all juggling families running the business. But we have to prioritize some of these critical issues for our industry and make time to drive the initiatives.

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Gender issues Professional development Mentoring Work-life balance Diversity and equality Workplace culture Practice Management Resource Center Dynasty Financial Partners Shirl Penney Recruiting RIAs Coronavirus Women in Banking