Last week's Women's IFA Group awards dinner has sparked an interesting debate across the industry as to whether or not it is right to single out work being done by IFAs for praise simply on the basis of gender.
In this age of political correctness, there have been a few raised eyebrows about the staging of an event which is designed to single out the achievements of women in financial advice, even though financial services is traditionally thought of as a male-dominated industry.
It is not the achievements and the quality of the winners and candidates that is being questioned. All have proven themselves to be excellent financial intermediaries whom their clients clearly appreciate, and all hold CFP accreditation which in itself is seen as an indicator of quality financial planning delivery.
The issue is whether the industry should need to stage an event which is designed to highlight the work of women and not men.
At what point does 'flying the flag', whooping and cheering for "minority" groups - women IFAs make up just 5% of the sector - become counterproductive to equality?
It has long been recognised financial services is largely a male-dominated industry and, if we are all entirely honest, equality may not be as advanced as we would all like to think.
In an office discussion, a male colleague argued his case very strongly for making the distinction because he points out as much as we might not like it, the inequality is still underlying. Many of his female friends still carry out the bulk of domestic and childcare duties along with holding down high-profile professional jobs, as well as carrying out any networking and socialising required to go with it.
Discussions with both men and women who attended the evening has revealed there is some discomfort about an event that clearly discriminates between gender, and has to highlight the fact women must work much harder to be noticed than their male counterparts, but inadvertently reinforces the stereotypes and double-standards those same women might prefer to see dispelled.
This was a dinner targeted specifically at women in business and the content of speeches made reflected it, albeit the ratio of women to men attendees was approximately 70/30. Unfortunately, the event held at Canary Wharf may have allowed comments and jokes to pass through which women would have something to say about, had the jokes been derogatory to women and reinforced the stereotypes of how men view women.
Comments by Margaret Hodge MP, now children's minister and previously responsible for women's issues, for example, pointed out not one of the top 30 FTSE 100 companies has a single woman director on its board, but but she may not have helped "the cause" by labelling these firms as "pale, male and stale".
One of the questions which has been raised is "isn't there likely to have been some backlash if the industry staged a 'Male IFA of the Year' award"?
The event's organiser - Fiona Price,chairwoman of WIG - points out in an ideal world, we shouldn't have a need for an organisation which is designed to help new women entrants manoeuvure into new roles, and build presence in a market which still conducts networking at dinners, drinks parties, on the golf course and in pubs.
She too would have preferred some of the comments - which would appear derogatory towards men in their roles as parents, partners or colleagues - were not made at a dinner, which she hopes highlights the talents and different styles women IFAs offer have compared with advice delivered by men.
It is perhaps right too, there are events elsewhere across the industry on occasions where women do not appreciate having to listen to comedians making stereotypical sexist jokes about women, even if it is something we have become used to over the years.
There are always going to be positives and negatives to any scenario and situation, and clearly there are still equality issues to address on both sides of the fence.
But, there is debate about this issue, and there are women IFAs (and journalists) who declined the invitation to attend because they do not believe the distinction of a women's event progresses the role of women in financial services.
What the industry perhaps needs to do is air the subject without fear or reprisal and work out what more is needed to balance the IFA arena so all advisers feel they are treated as equal professionals.
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