Attendees at the breakfast

Professional Planner has relaunched the Stella Network, a group supporting women and diversity in financial planning set up by BT almost 10 years ago.

Highlighting the challenges of working in a male dominated profession, barrister Carolina Soto addressed a group of advisers at the re-launch breakfast hosted during Professional Planner Advice Practitioner Summit about her journey to the bar and to starting her own chambers during the pandemic.

Soto said there are many parallels to financial planning and the legal profession and was happy to provide insight on what it was like for her as a relatively young female in a very male dominated profession.

“The statistics for women in the profession are very similar, apart from the fact it’s far too low, it’s something that really, really needs to change,” Soto said.

“For the legal profession, we actually have more women graduating than men. There’s definitely something that’s happening from the graduate stage to the journey to the bar.”

Soto was alluding to the fact that despite women joining the industry they don’t stay and she said numerous studies have been undertaken to find out why.

“I don’t know what the retention rates are for financial planners, but I really applaud the Stella Network for trying to encourage diversity in your profession,” Soto said.

When the Stella Network was formed, there was a shortage of planners in the industry; only 10 per cent of Australians had a financial planner and the lack of diversity in the industry (only 20 per cent of planners were women) meant that potential clients were unable to see planners they felt represented them.

Fast forward 10 years and, while there were little spikes in diversity over the term, diversity in the industry means that only 20 per cent of financial advisers are women.

The financial planning industry knows the value of advice and with that we want to help combat the scarcity of advisers in the industry and we want to make sure that we are appealing widely to the pool of graduates and those looking to change careers by making the industry more diverse and encouraging more women to become planners.

In closing, Soto left the delegates with three main points.

As a woman, trust your gut and intuition. “For many women that’s our superpower,” Soto said. When she opened her own chambers in early 2020, the general advice was to not do it. “I decided to just ignore the naysayers because at the end of the day I was just paying for a really lovely office I was never using, because I was either in court or working from home. I did that for two years and I loved it and I received a number of accolades for doing it.”

Secondly, Soto stressed it was important to know your worth. Having worked as a Legal Aid lawyer where clients came in getting her services free, she had to adapt to learning how to set her own value.

“When I went to the bar you’ve got to set your own fees and there’s guidelines about what you can charge, I couldn’t believe how much I could charge for the same services that I was doing as a legal aid lawyer and I felt a tremendous amount of guilt about it,” Soto said.