Employee support group brings ‘sense of place’ to women in wealth management
In workplaces across the country, employee resource groups (ERGs) provide people with support, tools and resources to help them succeed. At RBC Wealth Management-U.S., ERGs are an important part of the firm’s culture and commitment to inclusion and diversity.
The annual WAFA conference is a forum for female financial advisors across the country to network, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and learn best business practices. Photo by Jeff Achen.
One such group at the firm has been providing a supportive and inclusive environment for women since 1991, making it one of the longest-standing women-focused ERGs in the country. Called the Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA), the group aims to support the recruitment and retention of women in financial advisor and branch leadership roles and help women at RBC Wealth Management-U.S. succeed.
“What WAFA brings to the firm is a sense of place,” says Wanda Brackins, head of RBC Wealth Management global diversity. “It gives our female advisors an opportunity to connect with a broad network of people that can help them through issues – whether with their business or in life.”
That kind of network is important in an industry where women represent only 15 percent of the financial advisor force. WAFA is critical in helping women at RBC connect, and recently launched a program to support not only professional advancement and networking opportunities for women at the firm, but also recruiting and onboarding support for new advisors.
WAFA is also working diligently to increase the representation of women in the industry by attracting the next generation of female financial advisors. In recent years, WAFA has partnered with Rock the Street Wall Street, a financial literacy program designed to get high school girls interested in careers of finance, to give local high school students a glimpse of what life as a female financial advisor is like.
And with a series of documentary-style videos that highlight some of RBC’s successful women financial advisors, RBC and WAFA are sharing their stories to help more women have a view into the firm’s supportive culture.
“We’re excited to share what we have here at the firm with even more women,” Brackins says.
Lending a hand
WAFA’s goal of making the firm a supportive environment for women starts at the very beginning. When a new female advisor joins RBC, they receive a welcome letter from WAFA within their first few weeks, explains Jeri Larrinaga, the group’s president.
“We want to let them know that WAFA is here for whatever they might need,” she says.
Outgoing WAFA President Brooke McGeehan speaks at the 2019 WAFA conference. Photo by Jeff Achen.
The group provides a variety of educational and business resources for its members, including the very popular and well-attended annual conference. The conference is an opportunity for female advisors in the firm to connect with each other face to face, and to learn best business practices for the year ahead. In past conferences, events have included a session with “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed, a presentation on the firm’s technology direction, a discussion of investment solutions for current market conditions, and much more.
Through seminars, discussions and challenges for the upcoming year, the conference has been proven to make a difference. From one year to the next, internal metrics show that those who participate in the conference increase their production levels more than those who didn’t attend.
In 2020, the conference has adapted to a virtual setting because of COVID-19 restrictions. Though that meant losing out on the in-person element that has made past conferences so successful, it also enabled WAFA to include more of its members in the event.
“It was essential that we still find a way to make this year’s conference happen,” Larrinaga says. “Even though it will be virtual, we’ll still be able to provide that sense of connection that’s needed now more than ever as a result of the pandemic.”
The conference also includes the presentation of an annual award named in memory of Gail Winslow, an RBC Wealth Management financial advisor who served as a strong mentor throughout her 60-year career, before passing away in 2015. Each year, the award recognizes a woman at RBC who goes above and beyond in attracting, supporting and retaining women clients and financial advisors. The 2019 winner was Maureen Kerrigan, a financial advisor in the firm’s Providence, R.I. branch and president of WAFA from 2015-2017. Kerrigan, who also served in several other WAFA leadership roles, was recognized for her impact with the WAFA group and her support of women at the firm.
(left to right) Pat Vaughan, Wanda Brackins, Maureen Kerrigan, Brooke McGeehan and Warren Bischoff. Photo credit by Jeff Achen.
“We’ve made great progress toward letting women know that they have a resource to tap into,” Larrinaga says. “We provide the networking and support to help women thrive.”
And lending a hand is really what WAFA is all about, she adds.
“None of us got to where we are today by ourselves,” she says. “I’ve always been one who feels that those of us who have had a bit of success in our lives, we have an obligation to turn around and reach a hand out to someone and say, ‘What can I do for you?’”
As RBC continues to add more women to its ranks, WAFA will continue to be there to provide that supportive network, just as it’s done for the last quarter-century.
“That’s what WAFA does,” says Brackins. “It’s all about what we can do as a firm to help others up.”