A 'Stella' opportunity to improve advice

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BT Financial has unveiled its new initiative to attract more women into the financial planning profession.

The group aims to double the number of females in its bank-aligned financial planning businesses by 2015, and will do so with the help of a new network – The Stella Network.

The Stella Network will be supported by networking opportunities, events and workshops and will provide greater insight into what it’s like to work in the financial planning industry. Women are currently under-represented in the financial planning industry – accounting for fewer than 20% of the 16,500 financial planners in Australia.

BT Financial Group general manager of Advice, Mark Spiers, says over the coming years Australia will see dramatic changes in financial planning, including how Australian’s access advice and what advice they need.

“Australians need more financial advice than ever before and more planners to meet this demand. The industry needs to respond to this through more workplace flexibility, improved technology and increased professionalism to ensure we meet the financial needs of more Australians.

“Together, we need to strengthen the understanding of financial planning as a career and work to develop the employment support that is right for women.

“By better reflecting the broader diversity of the community, we hope to establish more rewarding relationships between financial planners and Australians.”

New research undertaken as part of Melbourne Business School’s Gender Equality Project, found that negative evaluations of women remain prevalent in business, but are most pronounced in male-dominated industries, such as finance.

The Gender Equality Project offers four suggestions on ensuring a fair and balanced workforce.

  1. A no ‘just joking’ policy

Light-hearted sexist comments or behaviour, no matter how minimal or seemingly insignificant, contribute to dissatisfaction amongst women in the workplace and ultimately affect employee retention, even amongst female employees that are not the subject of the behaviour.

Under a 'no just joking’ policy, anyone who hears a sexist remark would be expected to point it out and the person who made the remark would be required to say, “I am sorry that my comments were offensive.”  The matter would end there.  This puts the blame squarely with the perpetrator, and prevents the target being accused of lacking in humour or similar.

  1. Awareness of a bias is a useful first step for creating the motivation to change.

“Many people are unaware of how much their thinking, judgments and responses are influenced by unconscious knowledge and unconscious processes,” says the project report. “Measurement, reporting, discussion and training on unconscious knowledge and how it can lead to bias at work and in people’s personal lives can be particularly useful.”

      3. Strategies for effective slower thinking

Bias and discrimination often stems from unconscious knowledge and processes. Openly discuss with your employees this risk, and consider employing some of the following strategies to reduce unconscious bias.

- the use of decision making tools

- structured social interactions so that all people have equal chance to participate

- keeping a record of decisions to make sure that opportunities are being fairly allocated across all employees

- discussions at the end of meetings to consider if any biases might have played out in decision making processes.

4. Audits and redesign of systems and processes to detect and minimize bias in decisions

Some approaches that can be particularly useful are:

- remuneration audits to identify pay gaps, taking into consideration bonuses and other discretionary rewards,

- redesign of selection and promotion system to minimize the impact of gender

- evaluation of competency frameworks to ensure they include both male and female traits