Are Unconscious Biases Hindering Your Success With Female Clients?

There is a riddle that goes like this: A surgeon buys a brand new sports car. He wants to show it off to his son so they go for a drive. The pavement is wet, the road winding along a mountain side and they are going too fast. The car loses traction and they crash into the valley below. Fortunately other drivers see the accident and call an ambulance. The father is pronounced dead at the scene but the son is still alive, rushed to the local hospital and prepared for surgery. Upon arriving in the OR, the surgeon exclaims, “Oh my god, my son!!” How is this possible?

Think about it for a moment. If you get the correct answer you are still in the minority. The answer is – the surgeon is his mother – a woman.

Of course, gender-based biases as obvious as this are disappearing – but there are many others that affect virtually everything we do.

So why should you care? Because as financial advisors what you do “unconsciously” can make or break your effectiveness with female clients .

Before we go there – let’s make it clear that this is not a criticism of advisors – we are all guilty of unconscious biases. In fact, neuroscientists estimate that up to 98 percent of all brain activity occurs in the realms of the unconscious. We start building these biases as children. Everything we see, hear and learn from our parents, friends and the media affects us and informs our behavior.

So, don’t feel bad – the important take away is to understand that while we all have unconscious biases we can influence these preconceptions. It starts with accepting that we have them.

To recap – unconscious biases are learned and they lead to making assumptions, which in turn result in unconscious behaviors.

Learned– I see what other advisors do in this industry and this is what I should be doing. This is how to be a good advisor, sell product – project success, achieve results on behalf of clients and for the firm. Result is that you emphasize your own success and that of the company. You use jargon and charts and tables to demonstrate your superior performance.

Assumptions – Assumptions inform behavior. If you assume women aren’t interested in finance, not good at math, are risk averse, want to have kids or aren’t the primary decision maker, you are less likely to treat them as a partner, to listen to their point of view or engage them in serious conversation. What’s more, we look for client responses that reaffirm what we assume. And even female advisors sometimes hold these same assumptions about their female clients.

Related: Advisors Who “Get Women” Will Eat Your Lunch

Some unconscious behaviors that turn female advisors off:

You: listen mostly to her male partner, jump in to answer questions you think she’s asking, make eye contact and talk mostly to her male partner, ask questions mostly of him, and dismiss her concerns.

Before you think, I don’t do any of this, ask an associate to sit in on your next meeting. You may be surprised that you exhibit at least some of these behaviors – that is why they are called “unconscious.”

One last story. Recently an advisor who really wanted to improve his practice with women took one of our courses . Some time later he emailed to compliment us on the great course and to ask if we wouldn’t mind giving him some feedback on an event he was planning. Naturally we responded that we would be delighted – to which he responded, “Thanks girls!!” When we pointed out how egregious it was to call women “girls” he said, “Sorry I didn’t even notice.” Need we say more?

Visit us at and learn the many ways you can ensure that your and your colleagues’ unconscious behaviors aren’t jeopardizing your success with HNW female clients.