Headshots of Nicole Cope, senior director at Ally Invest and Lule Demmissie, president of Ally Invest

The financial industry is riddled with gender gaps. Some are more widely talked about, like the wage and investment gaps, while others aren’t mentioned as often. But they all contribute to the overall wealth gap between men and women — which sees women owning an average of just 32 cents for every dollar owned by a man.

In order to close this staggering divide, we need to dig into each and every factor that contributes to it. While we won’t be able to achieve financial equality overnight, we can make small but intentional strides toward addressing the plethora of gender disparities. One way to start is by having conversations with others in the industry. Ally Invest Senior Director Nicole Cope and I started by discussing the vast advisory gender gap.

A Look at the Advisory Gender Gap

Women control more than a third of household financial assets — that’s $10 trillion and growing. But the male-dominated wealth management industry has yet to catch up.

“Women are widely underrepresented in advisory, both on the consumer side and the advisor side,” says Nicole. “Females make up just 15% of advisors across all channels. So, when women are looking for an advisor who understands their specific goals, needs and wants, they aren’t seeing that represented in their choices.”

Lack of representation is just one of the deterrents that keeps women from seeking and receiving the financial advice they want. Not only is it more difficult to find an advisor who aligns with their goals, the conversations between advisors and clients tend to cater toward financial philosophies traditionally more popular with men.

“Study after study shows when women think about their investments, they tie them to a goal they want to achieve — while a lot of men tie their investments to a return,” says Nicole. “Oftentimes in the investor space, the focus of conversations is on performance and the return on investment. Rarely is it linked to how that performance impacts a goal. The way these conversations are held and shaped is a factor that keeps women out of investing.”

Longer Lives, Fewer Dollars, Less Help

It isn’t a secret that women, on average, have longer life expectancies than men — five years longer — which means more years on Earth that need to be funded. And because women don’t make as much money during their time in the workforce, each dollar earned needs to last even longer and work even harder.

“Women often face more financial risks than men. For one, longevity. They have to figure out how to fund their healthcare for more years. They have to care for family, which can result in time out of the workforce. Plus, many have to face the unique challenges from being a divorcee, a widow or a single mother,” says Nicole.

No matter the circumstances, investing in the market is a critical means for building long-term, sustainable wealth for all women. However, lack of financial education, confidence or both limits many from doing so to their full potential — or even at all. And though studies have found female financial decision makers (both married or unmarried) are more likely to seek out and pay a premium for wealth management advice, blind spots within the industry leave about half of women with advisors still feeling unconfident about reaching their goals.

“We need to see this industry take a greater priority in providing support and advice specifically for the needs and challenges of women,” Nicole says. “Because as more and more become the financial decision makers in their households, they deserve just as much support as their male counterparts.”

Making Advisory Approachable for All

Many aspects of finance can be intimidating — from learning about investing to making major monetary decisions to asking for professional advice. It’s up to the financial services industry, including Ally, to make these activities less scary and more accessible. Nicole and I agree, this requires a number of things to happen.

“Increasing representation of female professionals at financial firms will help open up the advisory space to more women,” says Nicole. “We also need to shape wealth management for a wide range of life experiences that are represented in women’s financial lives, offering virtual advice that fits within their schedules and customizing our goal assessments and consultations for them, whether they’re single mothers, widows or married women who are the CFOs of the home. We need to tailor our services to be flexible.”

Investing and, more importantly, feeling confident about your financial decisions shouldn’t be exclusive to men. Representation and how we shape our services will go a long way in widening that appeal. The provider that cracks that “inclusion” code may be able to win an outsized share of the investing dollars women command in the household.

“Financial planning and advisory services aren’t about your level of wealth as much as they are about your financial life and untangling its complexity,” Nicole says. “These services are for everyone. They enable you to make better, more informed decisions about your money. If more women had people talking to them about the power of financial planning, and from a younger age, it would bring so many more to the table.”

Read more: How to Be an Ally for the Working Women in Your Life

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Headshot of Lule Demmissie

During her tenure as president of Ally Invest, Lule led Ally Invest Securities, Ally Invest Advisors and API business lines. She also authored several articles about the investing industry and investor behaviors. Lule has a passion for agile product development and an appreciation of design thinking in shaping user-centric experiences. An advocate for financial and retirement solutions that rely on a mix of digital and human guidance, Lule believes in empowering individuals, especially women and minorities, to independently drive their own financial futures.