We here at Registered Rep. began creating top financial advisor lists back in 2002 — we were the first in the industry to publish such lists, as far as we can tell. To the original list of top wirehouse advisors (by assets), we have added top independent FAs and top RIAs; next month we will be bringing you top teams. But since 2002, we had resisted the urge to slice and dice financial advisors by ethnicity or gender. Our reasoning? Assets and professionalism are what matter. What difference does it make if you are a white male or an African-American woman? The only color Wall Street recognizes is the color green — as in money, assets, filthy lucre, whatever you want to call it. Indeed, even LAMBDA, the oldest civil rights organization for lesbians and gay men, gives top grades to Wall Street firms for the inclusiveness of their benefits programs — a LAMBDA lawyer once told me that Wall Street firms were among the first to extend benefits for same-sex couples, transgendered people and domestic partners.

That said, Wall Street has long been a man's world. We all remember the descriptions of the lewd and frankly frightening sexual harassment some male stockbrokers (as they were known back in the 1980s and 1990s) visited upon their female counterparts in Susan Antilla's book, Tales from the Boom-Boom Room. Class action lawsuits were brought forth by thousands of female plaintiffs. Many of the suits were settled and the plaintiffs were offered monetary awards and signed “shut-up” agreements.

Times have changed, although as recently as 2007 some 2,700 female Morgan Stanley advisors and trainees (oh, and their lawyers) won $46 million in a class action lawsuit. This is not to single out Morgan Stanley (now Morgan Stanley Smith Barney); similar accusations have been lobbed at many big firms. The good news is, as a result, nearly every broker/dealer has some kind of women's forum for current advisors and some sort of “diversity monitor” to ensure the fair dealings among all employees. Most have initiatives seeking to hire more women and minorities. Industry-wide, women now represent between 10-15 percent of FAs. Firms would like more. One wirehouse executive I spoke to a few years ago (when we last commented on this touchy subject) said, “We would do anything to hire more women and minorities. Generally, it's just hard to find any interest among them.” Financial services training programs face a lot of competition from law schools and other professions, he said.

Either way, the simple fact is: Women are getting into the business more than ever and performing better than ever. (A Raymond James spokeswoman, for example, told us that “the percent of our women who qualified for the Chairman's Council, the top dogs, rose from 13 to 20 percent over the last six years.”)

“There is a trend that more women than men are graduating with financial professional degrees and designations, including the CFP designations and CPAs,” says Philip Palaveev, president of Fusion Advisor Network, a consultancy that advises RIAs. “Many independent RIAs are also led by women, including Deb Wetherby, Rebecca Pomering and others. Independent financial advisors have anything but a macho culture — that may be the case in wirehouses but independents tend to emphasize relationships, empathy and family, a culture that is certainly very accepting to women advisors and owners.”

A note about the table that follows: We allowed RIAs that were at least 25 percent owned by women to be on the list at the advisement of our partners at Meridian-IQ, who ran the data. Many RIAs are formed by several partners who split the equity in the firm among them.

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