Executives from Merrill Lynch’s global diversity group say the firm has to do a better job in retaining and boosting the performance of women and minority financial advisors.

The firm, which has faced charges of discrimination in the past, recently created a program to help retain women and minority advisors, which make up about 20 percent of the firm’s 14,000-strong broker force. The program, called Financial Advisor Success Track, incorporated more rigorous training along with specialized courses to help new advisors overcome "cultural and attitudinal barriers" that women and minorities face when dealing with clients. Eighteen advisors from six cities completed the 13-week pilot program.

Diversity has been an issue Wall Street firms have struggled with, even in the last decade. Merrill Lynch faced myriad suits in the 1990s charging sexual discrimination, bias, and the creation of a hostile work environment. Many of those cases have since been settled although some of those are still actively being argued in the courts.

This program is not meant necessarily as a response to that, according to Jeffrey Humber, head of global diversity at Merrill, the program seeks to lessen the disparity in success and retention between minority and white male advisors. He said the levels of attrition were higher among minority and women advisors when compared to that of white males. He declined to give specific figures from Merrill’s examination of it’s own advisor force but indicated the difference was "significant."

In addition, the percentage of women and minority financial advisors hasn’t changed much in recent years—currently 15 percent of Merrill’s FAs are women, and just 7.5 percent are minorities. So greater efforts in recruiting from those pools needs to change, he said.