‘Math isn’t so hard’ for women post backfires for financial planning …

The CFP Board, the nonprofit that administers the Certified Financial Planner designation, is tackling the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by creating a new campaign and promoting the business on social media — but a recent approach proved just how difficult that may be.

The CFP Board’s Center for Financial Planning, a unit dedicated specifically to attracting new advisers of all backgrounds, recently posted on Instagram a quote by an unnamed female CFP saying the math required in the job wasn’t so hard, and that using a financial calculator was just like using an iPhone. The post sparked outrage from some advisers, specifically women advisers who said it degraded the profession and perpetuated the stereotype that all women fear math.

“It dumbed down what we do,” said Mary Beth Storjohann, a financial adviser and founder of Workable Wealth in San Diego, Calif. “In the name of being more marketable and accessible for young girls, there has to be some happy medium.”

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The financial services industry has a diversity problem — less than a third of personal financial advisers (31.6%) were women in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the numbers were even smaller for minorities: 6% were black, 7.7% were Asian and 7.1% were Hispanic. The CFP Board Center for Financial Planning has diversity initiatives, including scholarships and the “I am a CFP Pro” campaign, geared toward introducing prospects to the business.

The intention of the post was to break down “math anxiety,” or the desire to avoid number-crunching, so many women have, said Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, executive director of the Center for Financial Planning, and Eleanor Blayney, a Certified Financial Planner and special adviser on gender diversity for the center. In a study of young girls and boys in countries around the world, girls showed more math anxiety than boys, even if they were top achievers, according to research from the University of Missouri, the University of California at Irvine and the University of Glasgow. “We did not intend to play into the negative stereotypes,” Mohrman-Gillis said. “We are working hard to encourage more diversity with women.”

The advisers who posted to Instagram and Twitter to share their disapproval said they acknowledge and support the CFP Board’s campaign to broaden the industry, but the approach could have been better — particularly, never feeding into these stereotypes at all, said Carolyn McClanahan, an adviser and director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla. “What has been taught in one generation can be unlearned and taught differently in the next,” she said. “If we stop immediately with these negative subliminal messages that women aren’t good at math, then we can have women going on the trajectory not ever knowing that was a thought.”

Instead of focusing on what the industry isn’t — like the Instagram post attempted — they should send messages about what it is, advisers said. “Focusing on how we help people, that is very much the core of what we do,” said Sophia Bera, a financial adviser and founder of Gen Y Planning in Austin, Texas. Highlighting potential flaws and fears can demotivate new entrants, especially since so many women and minority advisers already feel as though they stick out, Bera said, but starting a conversation about what it really means to be a CFP and the relationships you gain with clients is valuable.

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The profession fully hinges on relationship building, and helping clients figure out how to reach their goals by using skills such as listening, picking up on cues, curating strategies to allocate funds and problem-solving, Storjohann said. Math and comprehending calculations is a part of the job, too, though — and building up your career, perhaps by starting out at larger firms, will take time.

Noting the hard work that goes into earning the CFP designation is also important — advisers interested in becoming a CFP must take courses, sit for an exam, and work 6,000 hours in the field within 10 years before passing the exam and five years after it before they are allowed to use the designation.

“I understand the CFP Pro campaign, trying to make the industry trendy and more relatable,” Storjohann said. But “where they’re going with this [post] is a disservice to those who worked so hard to get in.”

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