Converting Unconscious Bias into a Welcoming Presentation
No matter how quick a thinker you are, your biases always grab your internal microphone first.
That’s not a judgment. We’re just talking about what science has been quantifying for years about human beings and our lightning-fast brains. We tell ourselves quick little stories about people we meet, even before anyone has said “hello.” And we react to those stories, often unconsciously.
These stories—call them unconscious biases—complicate the financial industry’s outreach to female investors. Every institution is eager to craft pitches that appeal to women, the brave new market segment. But financial advisors need to recognize when their assumptions about women are rooted in the old days.
Because you shouldn’t kid yourself: women will pick up on your non-verbal, bias-based cues. And if they are exclusionary or preferential to men, you can find yourself shut out of the women’s market unless you take preemptive action.
The Three Personas Have Company
Once upon a time, it was a pretty safe bet that women coming in for financial services would fall into one of three roles: the passive spouse; the newly divorced or widowed spouse who has to manage on her own and under duress; or the single woman just beginning to explore her earning and investment potential.
There are many more types of women seeking financial advice these days. Some hold all the family’s financial reins. Others earn more than their spouses but are uncertain about how controlling they should be. Many are single women who are educated about their options, but still hope to find an advisor they can trust.
And some are a combination of types. “Father knows best” made things simpler, but now that the dual gender genie is out of the lamp, we all have to adapt to knowing less at the outset of client relationships.
A smart advisor will employ a few essential methods to compete for these clients:
• Start with the site. Women are more likely to check out your web presence than men. Don’t trigger their unconscious biases by projecting a distinctly masculine orientation (unless your ideal clients are men). Here’s where inclusive, non-gender-specific language is important. It’s not about p.c. culture; you’re interested in finding great clients of both genders. Make sure the site reflects that.
• Watching and listening skills beat the gift of gab. Unconscious biases can reveal themselves in all sorts of ways, but verbal slips can be the most revealing—and damaging. So keep it neutral at the outset. If you are working with a couple, ask why they have come, and see who contributes what to the story.
Once a photo salesman told me that my husband surely would want photos of our kids on his work desk. Innocent enough remark, but I caught the unconscious bias beneath the sales pitch. And that was photography. Be assured that people are even more alert and vigilant when it comes to their money.
• Pay attention to décor details. No, that doesn’t mean women like things pretty. They do like to see that somebody put some thought into things. A messy office where clients drink coffee in Styrofoam cups—if they drink it at all—betrays a bias toward the more casual way of a boys’ club. Presentation that shows an interest in finer details simply shows that you are aware that details can matter to your valued clients.
• When there are two people, there’s two of everything. This is as simple as supplying two pens and two notepads. You’d be amazed how many advisors provide only one. Ask both people about their concerns and goals, even if one seems inclined to let the other do the talking.
You don’t need to tread on eggshells. A female-inclusive style isn’t uptight or cautious. It simply wants to supplant the old assumptions about money and gender with an attitude that is grounded in the simple: how can I help?