Originally published on Advisor Perspectives, November 27, 2017
The litany of revelations about the abuse of women in the workplace has overwhelmed and disgusted many. Much of this conduct is not “sexual harassment” – it’s criminal assault and should be treated as such. Calling it “sexual harassment” trivializes behavior that should rightly be labeled rape, kidnapping and assault and battery, among other violations of the criminal statutes.
In response to the parade of vile perpetrators of sexual misconduct, here’s a step that we can all take to help women. I’ve already taken it.
Treatment of women advisors
I give presentations at many advisor conferences. Recently, I’ve sought out female advisors and asked them for their personal experiences. While none (fortunately!) reported egregious physical conduct, almost all of them felt they were discriminated against in more subtle ways.
Some reported persistent, unwanted advances from male colleagues. Others talked of being excluded from firm outings geared to male-oriented activities. None felt they were on a level playing field with their male counterparts.
This more subtle form of discrimination is very insidious and difficult to combat.
My own behavior
When I examined my own behavior, I identified some ways that I was part of the problem. I get a number of requests for referrals to advisors and financial planners. Most are from smaller investors, but recently I received a request that could generate very significant assets on an ongoing basis.
I examined the way I handle these referrals. I refer to advisors I know. The vast majority of those advisors are male. I don’t consciously refer to men to the exclusion of women. I just never thought about it before.
My modest proposal
When I reflected on my process, it became clear that it should change. Here’s why:
Real power is economic power. Most of the women subjected to repugnant, sexist behavior tolerate it because the predator has economic leverage. They don’t want to risk alienating him, so they stay silent, or (worse still) succumb.
While some women now have the courage to speak up, no meaningful progress will be made until more women are in a position of power. To state the obvious, no advisory firm owned by a woman would permit a culture of harassment of women and would be far less likely to tolerate harassment of anyone.
Here’s my modest proposal:
Every time I have an opportunity to refer business, I’m going to seek out a qualified woman advisor and include her in the options I present.
Think about what would happen if more people took this small step.
I fully understand the same argument could be made for the inclusion of other minority groups. I’m going to try to be more cognizant of those groups as well. But currently, my focus is going to be making sure women advisors get a fair shot at the business I refer.
I’m not suggesting my new approach will make a serious dent in discrimination against women in advisory firms, but it’s a start. If you join in, we can make a difference, whenever you refer advisors, accountants, lawyers or other professionals.
Here’s what’s not an option: Permitting the degradation and unfair treatment of women in the workplace.
Let’s add #refertowomen to #metoo.