As the daughter of a Chinese father and American-born mother, I have been exposed to many different stereotypes in the US, Europe, and Asia. I also grew up taking in mixed messages about what it means to be a successful, professional woman.
While both my parents expressed their belief that I could achieve anything with hard work, focus, and dedication—I saw that professional women’s struggles in Asia are exacerbated. As I grew older, I saw that women are not taken seriously professionally if they are too passive, but that they can also be derailed professionally by being seen as “too ambitious,” “too expressive,” “too opinionated,” or “too individualistic.”
Finding a Way to Lean in That Felt Right to Me
While I firmly believe that women can “have it all,” and that they should consistently “lean in,” my experience gives me a slightly different perspective—one that I bring to my career as a financial planner.
Indeed, juggling my responsibilities as a daughter, wife, mother, caregiver, professional, and professional financial planner has taught me to strive for balance—not perfection.
When I started out in financial planning, it was rare for a recruited female to be successful with a toddler and an infant, not to mention one from a diverse background. I knew, and so did everyone else, that the odds were against me. But with my success, 14 years later, that perceived liability is now an asset and a source of inspiration to other young women professionals in the financial planning field.
In my professional experience, I have always valued a collaborative approach involving negotiation, mediation, and compromise rather than an autocratic approach to resolving disagreements and conflicts. Being “helpful,” or “a good listener,” or “valuing connections with clients” may be dismissed as “female” traits, but make no mistake. They do not mask weakness. In fact, I have had to stand up against the criticism of some male managers for my professional approach with clients—which puts a premium on client service—because they view it as too time-intensive.
And to be honest, the comments of those who doubted me were responsible in part for motivating me to persevere. When I lean in, I am not just leaning in for myself. We all need to do our part to break through the stereotypes.
Though men hold a disproportionate share of corporate leadership positions, “Many industries lack the inclusion and participation of people of color and women, perhaps none more egregiously than the financial services sector,” said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), in a statement.
The key for me is to lean in—on behalf of my clients and the financial planning industry. With my clients, I work to help them achieve balance between their financial-related goals for their lives now and their hopes for secure financial futures. With what the National Journal says “may be the most chauvinistic industry in America: Wall Street,” I work to clear the career path for other women and people with diverse cultural heritages.
Here is how I am leaning in with my clients:
I strive to create a safe, comfortable zone for honesty and creative thinking. I pride myself on my ability to sense stress, shame, or guilt as my clients enter my office. I recognize that their time is valuable and that they are coming to me to for financial guidance. I find that women, especially, need their advisors to be able to connect with them.
- They also need to know that they are heard and understood, as opposed to being lectured to or talked down to. Women want someone to work with them to understand the impact that one decision may have on other areas of their financial lives. My goal is to enable women to verbalize the dreams they have for their personal financial journey and vocalize their individual needs and concerns so they are empowered to take ownership of their financial futures.
I give my clients plenty of time to make sound financial decisions. Many women are often struggling to balance their careers with their family responsibilities. It isn’t so much that women procrastinate financial planning, but that they feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overworked. I provide the education, time frame, and comfortable setting that they need by asking:
- What would you like to accomplish today?
- What do you need from me?
- What is on your mind?
Here is how I am leaning in to shape the chauvinistic financial planning industry:
Instead of sitting on the sidelines, complaining that there should be more women and more representation among diverse multicultural communities, I am a candid and passionate advocate for diversity — and I am particularly dedicated to increasing investor education and financial empowerment in multicultural and diverse communities. I served as the chair of FPA Diversity Scholarship Sub-Committee for three years and I currently co-chair the 2012 FPA Diversity Committee.
I mentor young women and women of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds to pursue CFP certification. I firmly believe that role models are important, and I know that some women advisors may prefer to have a female mentor, so I make myself available to work with them.
I encourage financial firms that are committed to employing women to adopt more women-friendly sales training practices.
I challenge myself to inspire and empower those around me to believe in themselves and harness their full potential.
“A candle loses nothing when it lights another candle,” said Thomas Jefferson. So while leaning in remains an important goal of mine, my true mission is to light someone else’s candle—be it my clients, colleagues, those starting out in my profession, or the others who touch my life.
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