Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I have worked very hard over many, many years to obtain a senior position in an advisory firm. I started as an operations analyst, went to school to obtain a finance degree and then obtained my CFP. Eventually I secured a role as an advisor and have been feverishly building my own client portfolio.

I’m a woman among much older male partners and I sense that no matter how much I’ve done, how far I’ve come and how much I’ve proven myself, they do not see me as their peer. I sense that they believe I contribute less to the firm.

It affects my end-of-the-year bonus, so it impacts my pocketbook. I’m a single mother and have been raising three children on my own so every dollar is very important to me.

Is there a way, without being overly pushy, to let them know I am unhappy with the way I am being treated? I would not threaten to leave. I don’t want to position this as an ultimatum, but it does make it hard for me to get excited about the firm and my work. I am treated like a second-class citizen and it isn’t appropriate given what I’ve done and will continue to do for the firm.

T.E.

Dear T.E.,

Your story here is not an unusual one, especially for a woman who has worked her way up the ranks and now wants an equal seat at the table. I hear about this situation often from many firms in our industry. There are a few aspects I’d ask you to consider to figure out the best approach for your individual situation.

First, it isn’t as easy as saying you could go to them and demand an equal share or greater bonus. If you put yourself in their shoes, they probably see it as unbalanced given they were the founders and the leaders of the firm. I don’t know your client base, i.e. if you have as many clients as they do, but I suspect you are probably still building your business while they would say theirs is well established. Founders or leaders often have a hard time accepting that others are contributing significantly to the growth and success of the firm. There is a condition called Founder’s Syndrome because the situation is so common. Try and see things from their perspective and you will be heard more effectively as a result.

Second, make sure the requirements for success are clearly defined. It’s possible that you think you are contributing to a large degree, and significantly enough to warrant a greater share of the pot, but are there are really clear goals and objectives so you know you are measuring the same way, and the same things, your partners are measuring. It’s also not uncommon for people to have varying perspectives on the significance of contribution levels. You might want to either write something out for their approval, or ask if you could all sit together to define these.

Lastly, make sure you don’t position your desire for a bonus as necessary for living expenses. I hear people do this a lot and it isn’t the best way to make a case. Your living situation is your issue and while I admire any single mother making a living and raising children, you don’t want that to become the focal point of the discussion. This can actually diminish the importance of the contribution you might be making. Be sure to stick to the business facts – what you have done, how it benefits the business and what the associated compensation could and should be. Stick to the business, focus on ROI, and make a business case.