A few years ago, the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) launched the idea of specific awards for women in financial planning. In particular, the Female Excellence in Advice Award – a joint initiative of the AFA and TAL Life – was established in 2011 to identify and reward a female financial adviser displaying professional excellence and leadership within the profession.

Since then, women have been winning a good haul of the best financial planning awards – not just female-only awards – from various industry associations and media outlets.

So does this mean that the female-only categories have become redundant? If not, I hope they will become redundant soon.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate anything that encourages women in financial planning. And I love awards – especially those that recognise the special challenges women face in an industry where they are in the minority.

However, we need to make sure that the awards are also reflective of the high absolute standards that women achieve in the industry. If we can beat the men as award-winning planners, isn’t that a better message to spread outside our industry – to the clients, to those people who we are seeking to impress with our high standards and achievements?

To those outside the industry, a female-only award will only sideline our case and insinuate that we need something special to mark “our achievements”.

The AFA Adviser of the Year Award – open to both men and women – has been won by a woman in two of the past 10 years (20 per cent), which is exactly representative of the percentage of women in financial planning.

In the Financial Planning Association (FPA) awards (which make no distinction between men and women) the inaugural Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Professional Best Practice Award was won by Pippa Elliott in 2011. And in 2012, another woman, Michelle Tate-Lovery, won this prestigious award.

We’re kicking goals, and it’s great to be recognised – especially when the field is open. For our colleagues – and more importantly, our clients – to really see us at the top of our profession, we need to be competing with the entire field.

This might seem a little contrary to having networks that support women, but I don’t think so. We are still focused on bringing more women into the industry – and it’s great to highlight the achievements of women and provide role models for newer entrants to the industry. But we don’t want to undervalue our achievements or capability. We want to make sure our role models are strong and convey the message that we can hold our own. We want to make sure that while we remain in a minority position, we’re receiving enough support from our peers to encourage our numbers to grow. And we want help and encouragement to take out more awards.

Awards in themselves are a great way of promoting diversity, because they are output-focused. Your business may be big or small, your client list rich or not; and your location may be city, regional or suburban. But what it’s really about is the advice you give, the results you get, and the reputation you earn.

It’s no longer about the hours you work, or where you work, or what you look like. Good results for your business and for your clients are all that really matter.

This is truly the new face of financial planning and what we’re all trying to achieve: a better outcome for more Australians, provided through financial planning, in the way clients want to receive it, and at the time they most need it.

It involves educating people about the value of advice, but doing that while providing good results for more people.

It seems so easy when it’s put that way.

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