Edward D. Jones & Co. has been bolstering its Minnesota team, and its latest hiring of financial advisers include several women, which stands out in a male-dominated industry that has long struggled to diversify.

The St. Louis-based brokerage said one-third of the 30 financial advisers it recently hired in the Twin Cities are women. That's noteworthy given that by some estimates, women make up as little as 8 percent of all U.S. financial advisers.

Even after years of special efforts to attract and retain women, it's not clear how much progress has been made.

Cerulli Associates, a Boston-based market research firm and an authority on the profession's numbers, said it hasn't tracked the gender breakout consistently enough to say whether the percentage is going up, down or holding steady.

The lack of women financial advisers is an odd contradiction, as several surveys show that a majority of women make significant financial decisions in the household.

"I think the industry as a whole is still embarrassed by the numbers," said Danny Sarch, president and a financial services recruiter at Leitner Sarch Consultants in White Plains, N.Y.

Edward Jones, known for developing its own financial advisers by training rookies from scratch, says that 18 percent of its advisers nationally are women, including nearly 25 percent of its recent hires.

Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial Inc., which focuses on recruiting experienced advisers from other firms, says that 17 percent of its adviser force is female. That appears to be holding rather steady, said spokesman Chris Reese. "It is an effort of ours to hire women," Reese said.

Nick Lampi, regional leader at Edward Jones in Minneapolis, said he doesn't know why women remain so underrepresented in the industry.

"It's the million-dollar question," Lampi said.

Edward Jones, which currently has 12,907 advisers, has stepped up recruiting toward its goal of having 20,000 advisers by the year 2020. It currently has 339 financial advisers in Minnesota, with more on the way.

Overall numbers down

Both Edward Jones and Ameriprise are growing their ranks, even as the industry contracts. Cerulli forecasts that the total U.S. adviser head count will fall to 297,515 by the end of 2016, down from 316,109 at the end of 2011. (In tallying the females, Cerulli counted advisers who work directly with clients and are either registered investment advisers or reps holding a Series 7 securities license.)

The majority of Edward Jones' new Twin Cities hires are career changers making their first foray into the business, Lampi said. For instance, the company's Forces program targets people transitioning out of military service. According to Lampi, Edward Jones attracts entrepreneurial-minded people wanting to run their own show.

The company provides six months of training, including helping recruits study for the Series 7 and Series 66 exams they must pass. It also pays a salary for the first few years until advisers build their independent practices.

It's a homegrown adviser model, one that Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial Inc. has moved away from to focus more on attracting experienced advisers.

Boot camp includes a trip to St. Louis, where new recruits practice face-to-face relationship-building skills.

There are mock interviews and role-playing rooms set up like offices or makeshift stores, even doors that new hires can practice approaching and knocking on.

Edward Jones is one of the only firms that send advisers out into neighborhoods to knock on doors. "No other firm in the industry does that as a way of training people," said Sarch, the recruiter.

Stacey Okan, one of Edward Jones' new hires, said she has scored some of her clients on doorsteps. "Not everybody is receptive to you knocking on their door, but for the most part people are pretty nice," said Okan.

Okan, 46, of New Brighton, is a single mother who worked for years in advertising sales. She was looking for a career change, she said.

Okan now shares an office in Columbia Heights with another Edward Jones adviser. But she's building her full-service practice in the New Brighton area and plans to open an office there soon, she said. She has tapped the company's mentoring and support program for women, called "Women's Initiative for New Growth Strategies," or WINGS.

"I think females may have an edge in some ways because there's a relational piece to our business," said Okan.

Christina Boyd, managing director of investments and senior financial adviser at Merrill Lynch in Wayzata, agrees. "When we were traditional stockbrokers, I don't think the job was as appealing to women," Boyd said. "Now that we're full-service financial planners, wealth managers, we have family meetings with clients, we do trust services. … I think that women are very, very good at the business the way it's evolved.

"I tell women all the time, it's the best business you can have. You're kind of your own boss."