S1 E18- Breaking the Mold: Empowering Women in the Financial Industry with Nora Gillis

In this episode of Women Behind the Millions, host Jessica Weaver interviews Nora Gillis, a financial industry professional who has found her passion in empowering women and breaking free from traditional frameworks. Nora shares her journey from Latvia to the United States, the challenges she faced, and how supportive mentors guided her along the way. She also discusses the importance of creating a community for women in the male-dominated financial industry, and her decision to take on a senior sales role, highlighting the lengthy decision-making process she went through.


  • Nora shares her journey of breaking free from traditional job titles and finding fulfillment by creating her own category in the financial industry.
  • It’s so important to empower other women in the industry by connecting them, sharing best practices, and creating a community of support.
  • She discusses the importance of diversity and bringing new perspectives to the financial services industry to deliver more value to everyone involved.

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Jessica Weaver 0:01
Hello listeners Hello money queens, welcome to Women behind the millions. Today we have my dear friend I would say partner of the woman’s wealth boutique Nora Gillis, who is a regional consultant at assetmark. She spent her entire career in the financial services industry just celebrating her 10 year anniversary with her current firm assetmark. She works with financial advisors from all walks of life and helps them navigate all the resources they can offer for their business, their clients, their asset management, she has a very cool story she is from Latvia, she ended up in New Jersey and this is how we met, we actually live a town away from each other, and accidentally found New Jersey by applying to college and receiving a full scholarship. So thank you for coming to New Jersey, Nora. And thank you for being on this episode of women behind the millions.

Nora Gillis 0:55
Thank you so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of podcasts, I have never been on one. So I’m very excited.

Jessica Weaver 1:04
Oh, we’re popping your cherry today, this is exciting, ladies. We really are going to focus on women and leadership. And what’s happening, I’m noticing it more and more, especially in the financial industry, it seems whether it’s advisors, female advisors or clients, they’re really starting to take some bold risks with their career, whether it’s leaving the corporate world to start something of their own or going for those promotions, executive roles. And even you Nora had an opportunity to do something similar with your own career as well at assetmark, right?

Nora Gillis 1:38
Yes, absolutely. It’s, it’s been an interesting, it’s been an interesting journey to get to where I am right now. If you had told me 20 years ago, you’re going to be here, this is what you will be doing. I would tell you, you are crazy.

Jessica Weaver 1:59
Let’s go back to the Nora of 20 years ago, what was she like? What was she doing?

Nora Gillis 2:05
Well, so as you mentioned, I grew up in Latvia, which is northeast Europe, sort of former Soviet Union. And it’s, it’s a very different world to come from. And the country went through all kinds of transformation while I was growing up. And I just had this idea that I wanted to go somewhere else to study, I didn’t know exactly where I just knew that English was my strongest foreign language. So I figured, okay, something something English speaking. And I also knew that I could my family could not pay for tuition, essentially. So I said, Okay, Nora, what do you what do you need to do? Where can you go? And how are you going to make this work? So I’ve always been sort of a girl with a plan. I figured out early on in high school, okay, here’s, here’s a potential path, you could go to the US here’s, here’s the exams, you have to take, here’s the process, you know, here’s the grades you have to get. And I applied for a number of schools and randomly ended up at College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, which is very close to where I live now, where you are, Jess, as well, which is such a strange thing in this huge country, I’ve essentially spent my entire time here in sort of a 40-50 mile radius of where I went to college. But that theme of women leadership actually started in my life very, very early on. Now both in my high school times, I had female teachers that were really, really supportive of this goal that I had for myself. And, and helped encourage me and support support me and, and, and serve had me see things that I did not even see in myself early on. I had a great physics teacher and I was very, I’m a big nerd. I’ve always been a very big nerd and I thought maybe I’ll go study science and she said, listen, Nora like you, you could absolutely do that. And I think you’ll be great at it. But you have all these other skills as well and this engagement that you have with with people, and I think you can turn that in something very different. And I will never forget that.

Jessica Weaver 4:48
What a gem to be handed.

Nora Gillis 4:50
Right? I will I will never forget her saying that. And I thought oh, you know what, maybe I can consider things that just did not appear possible to me before that

Jessica Weaver 5:04
It’s amazing how much we can see in others what we can’t see in ourselves. You so, so many so much at the time you need to have those people in your life who will point them out to you. Because we’re so hard on ourselves but for somebody to see where you really light up and shine and then to verbalize it to you. And open up your world instead of you just being stuck behind a computer or in science, to a relationship role. Which suits you so well. I was curious, did you have anybody else in your world, your family, at your high school that was going to go to college in the States or in a different country? Did you have anybody else who’s going through that planning process with you?

Nora Gillis 5:49
No, no, I actually

Jessica Weaver 5:52
What a pioneer you are.

Nora Gillis 5:55
So my parents, my mom was always really supportive. She’s certainly a role model. She’s the boss lady, herself, having kind of gone through very turbulent times with, you know, what the country was going through and everything and created a lot of opportunities for herself. So she was always very supportive. But I actually had people telling me the opposite. I remember very specifically somebody telling me, Well, listen, you’re just going to waste all this money on the applications. It’s a lot of money even you know, for for Latvia at that time. I don’t I don’t know why you’re bothering you’re, you’re just wasting your money there. And, you know, sometimes things like that are discouraging, and maybe it was a little bit, but also it can be motivating. And I thought, well, I will show you.

Jessica Weaver 6:47
Yes, that seems to be a big theme on women behind the millions, you tell me no, or don’t do that and that’s just going to make me want to do it more.

Nora Gillis 6:55
Exactly. And I thought well maybe you’re right, but I’m gonna go through the process regardless and see what happens.

Jessica Weaver 7:05
Now, it’s very confusing for people in the US to go through that process of getting into a US college, I can’t even imagine now you’re in a different country, different language, even understanding what the process is like, is it a very different process than what it is

Nora Gillis 7:21
Very, very, very different process. And the timing is very different. Back in Europe, we sort of we finish high school, and then you take your entrance exams to different universities after you’ve taken all your graduation exams. Okay, so this process of me doing things you know, in my junior year, or you know, even before was very, very different. We shout out to US Embassy in Latvia, they have a great educational resource, or at least did at that time. Who kind of helped with information but you know what it is people tell me Oh, you were so brave. You know, when you’re 17/18 years old, you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. You just say, that sounds like a great idea. I’ve I’ve watched movies looks like people in college have a great time in the US. Let’s let’s try it. What do I have to lose?

Jessica Weaver 8:24
Yeah, but still to be the only one that you know, making that change. Thats a pioneer Nora. Let’s fast forward. Now you your first day on campus at St. Elizabeth, what was that like? And did you get there ahead of time to get acclimated? What was that transition for you?

Nora Gillis 8:45
It was very, very different. And it would have been different if I were doing it now when we have so much more communication in terms of, you know, WhatsApp and facebook messenger

Jessica Weaver 9:01
Social media that you can connect with people

Nora Gillis 9:04
And you can keep in touch with your family and connect with other people. But it was all the instructions that I had were tell us fly into Newark airport, tell us your flight information and there will be a lady named I believe Jessica, picking you up at that time, she will try to find you and that’s all. That’s all I knew.

Jessica Weaver 9:27
Oh, geez. That’s a little scary

Nora Gillis 9:29
Here are my two suitcases I have never been to the US or to New Jersey at all.

Jessica Weaver 9:35
First impressions of New Jersey?

Nora Gillis 9:37
It was very hot. It was August. It was mid August. You know, I came in, they bring us in a little early and I thought wow, it’s very hot. I’m used to I’m a city girl. Sort of most of my life back at home I spent in a city and you know College of St. Elizabeth has a beautiful campus and the wonderful thing is there’s a train stop right outside of it. And that goes into New York City. But the place itself is is, you know, sort of contained. And that was very confusing to me. I said what do you mean, I can’t just walk down the street to the local bodega or convenience store or whatever it is? No, no, we have we need cars here to go anywhere. So the adjustment process was very, very difficult. And I thought, you know what, they’ve given me this full scholarship, which is an amazing opportunity. There’s no way that I could pay for this myself. My family could not actually I ended up taking out a loan to buy my plane tickets and books. I thought a book costs $100, one textbook, like you are joking, surely, right. Yes. It’s expensive. It was it was very, very confusing. So the culture shock was was real, the culture shock was real. Oh, yes, major, major homesickness, and all of that. I did. And funny enough, at that time College of St. Elizabeth, now it’s University St. Elizabeth University, was an all girls college. So this theme of women and women role models, and all of that has been certainly following me all my life. So it took me a while to be even sure that I’m going to stay initially, I said, I will, I will finish out the year. I will do one year and I can say that, you know, I spent the year in this college and and I don’t think I can last any longer. And then after the first year, I thought, well, let me just get through. Let me get this degree here. I’ve started it and sort of bit by bit you do make it through. But that might have been

Jessica Weaver 10:03
One step at a time. If you looked at that full four years, there would have been too much homesickness, too much culture shock. When do you feel that you really started to get settled here in the states in New Jersey? Was it during college? Was it when you started to work?

Nora Gillis 12:29
That’s a difficult question. Probably, yes, probably towards the end of college. When I thought, okay, I could go, I could go right back. My plan. The plan at the back of my head was always to go back to somewhere in the European Union. Latvia as part of European Union, I thought maybe I’ll go to London, maybe I’ll go to Brussels. But then in this, you know, US immigration process after you’ve been a student, they say, Well, you can work for a full year afterwards. We were giving you a special work permit. And I thought, well, I’m already here. Manhattan’s right there, it would be very interesting to get that experience of working for some kind of financial services company in the city, right? In New York City, which which a

Jessica Weaver 13:22
The american dream.

Nora Gillis 13:24
A dream, right? I’ve, I’ve watched a lot of TV and a lot of movies, and I thought, I’m going to put on a suit and go to the office. And that will mean something that will mean that I’ve made it and I was terrified all the way through. A lot

Jessica Weaver 13:43
We all are, let’s be honest, we all are.

Nora Gillis 13:46
And I thought somebody will somebody will hire me, I don’t know about this. But somebody after a lengthy process, somebody did hire me and actually gave me a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for my first job. So

Jessica Weaver 14:03
And then you’ve been 10 years with assetmark. So I know you’ve switched roles there and you stepped into this larger position where you really are serving or relationship focused with the advisors. What was that transition like for you? Or I guess really stepping into that leadership role and as a mark

Nora Gillis 14:24
It’s the entire journey has been a lengthy process of me stepping into my strengths that I think other people back to my high school days, you know, my my physics teacher saw, but I could not really believe in myself. I had an internship in college and at a mortgage commercial mortgage company and when they asked me where do you see yourself long term, back office or front office, I said oh back office 100%. I will, give me a spreadsheet, give me give me data to work with, I will do that it’s too stressful. I I’m, I think I was too afraid of making a mistake and too afraid of putting myself out there. But I’ve always felt that that connection to people, and engaging with people is something that I gain a lot of energy from and that I really enjoy. And I’ve pushed myself slowly throughout my career, to kind of step into those things, even when they often terrified me.

Jessica Weaver 15:41
So stepping into it, despite the fear, despite sometimes it just seems so, so easy and cozy and familiar to I’ll just be back here supporting everybody else. And this happens a lot. You think of how many of the admin role that administrative roles in the financial industry are women?

Nora Gillis 15:58
Yes, yes. And they do a wonderful job. They do a wonderful, wonderful job. But it seems like too much responsibility, too much visibility, everybody sort of looking at you to step into more of that client facing, front office type role. And it always seemed interesting. But I was cautious. My previous role was more just behind the scenes, still, managing relationships, but more one on one and more connecting other people, which is what I love to do. I love creating connections. And this opportunity came up to step into this role, which is a senior sort of sales organization role in my current company assetmark, and they were kind enough to reach out to me and say, Hi, we are reorganizing some things. We know that you’ve been looking at other opportunities within the company, how would you like to step into this regional consultant role at assetmark in New Jersey? And the decision making process was lengthy. I went back and forth about a

Jessica Weaver 17:26
Going to be honest here, lengthy, it wasn’t an immediate, Yes. Were you excited by the idea of it, and terrified at the same time, I feel like this happens.

Nora Gillis 17:35
That’s exactly it. I was I was excited. I was a little terrified, a lot terrified, there was a lot of unknown. And this is where, you know, leadership and role models and leadership come in. Because in the entire team of this role where I am currently, we had maybe 23-24 people doing this job at assetmark, and only one of those was a woman. Wow. So now there’s two of us. Yes. Shout shout out to Sarah Paulson in Wisconsin. So, so that, that really challenged me a little bit to try to imagine myself in a role that I’ve mostly seen men do. Yes. And think how do I fit into that? Can I fit into that? Will I be successful? Will I enjoy it? You know, I don’t play golf, I have no intention of playing golf, to be honest. Most of my colleagues do and most of their clients, a lot of financial advisors. That’s sort of an industry thing.

Jessica Weaver 18:56
That’s where they network, right? That’s when they do meetings, on the golf course. And I remember being told you need to learn how to golf, if you want to do well in this industry. That sounds really miserable to me, I’m a runner not a golfer.

Nora Gillis 19:09
Exactly. So the thought process that I was going through and even after I accepted the role was do I have to change myself and everything about myself to fit into what I have seen this role to be and what my clients, the financial advisors I work with, have come to expect from the people that work with them. And that was a very challenging process that really has taken the last several years to get very comfortable with this. This is who I am and this is how I am going to do this work. And that still means my clients are taken care of, and I still do the job that needs to be done. But maybe I’m doing it a little bit differently. I will not meet them on the golf course. Because I will not I will not golf, I refuse.

Jessica Weaver 20:17
Yes, it’s true that, you know, we take what the men have done, and we can use what we like about it. But we don’t have to try to fit ourselves into that box, and take up something that we’re going to despise and hate. Because one, you don’t want that energy around you, right? That resentment about it. And there is a way that we can do it on our own terms. And I love that you’ve been able to create that mold. That’s what we’re doing here at the woman’s wealth boutique with our advisors is finding that place that taking the strengths of all these different mentors that have been in your life, what you love about them, and then also, what would you do differently, and you learn both ways around it, it’s amazing to see that you’ve been able to step into your own and find a way to make it work for you. And still be extremely successful, and profitable and always growing and learning. You also have taken on this initiative to get more female advisors engaged, and meeting and networking and collaborating together as well. Let’s talk about that. I was so grateful to be at one of the, was it one of the first meetings that you hosted?

Nora Gillis 21:25
First in person meeting, we started virtually a little bit over the COVID times.

Jessica Weaver 21:31
Oh, fabulous. And we have another one here coming up next month when we’re recording this. So what is your goal around having more women coming to these events? What’s your goal with the events in general? How often are you having them?

Nora Gillis 21:47
Yes. So this is I think, why I connected with you so immediately, and the idea behind women’s wealth boutique. My thinking has really turned to this duality of understanding what the current framework is, you have to have an understanding of what is this current system and how things work within that. It is a very male dominated industry. And then understanding well what what is important to me, what calls out to me in what I do day to day, and some of the people that I really connect with. And I’ve come to realize there is this very clear thread throughout my education in my career of having strong women mentors, and role models, and connecting with other women doing amazing things. And I’ve seen women be some of the best financial advisors that I’ve, I’ve met. And I work with, you know, fantastic male financial advisors as well. But there is a different type of engagement and feeling in the room. When I’ve seen women advisors come together. In my old role, I supported a lot of women’s initiatives as well. And I thought, well, I have the capability and the the ability to do what I want to an extent here, assetmark is great, because they say, however you want to accomplish your job is great for us. So there was a lot of flexibility there. I thought there is something magical when you bring a group of women together and professional women and in this specific instance, who have frequently been the only woman in the room, or the only one of two women in the room, and may not always speak up as much or may hold their real feelings and their real reactions in, because again, we may not some of us like to golf and some of us don’t and some of us are into sports and a lot of us are not. And it’s a different type of conversation. So really the idea was for me to create a community and a conversation and engagement that ultimately I want to see all advisors but especially women, grow their business, serve more clients in better ways and see more younger women come into this industry as well.

Jessica Weaver 25:02
Amen to that, it’s true growing up going to the because my father has been an advisor for 40 years right, growing up and going to the conferences that were award centers, reward centers and trips. It’s like it’s all the spouses are the wives, it’s all the men going there. And then now here I am entering it and it’s just a sea of gray and navy business suits. And majority the average male advisor is probably a man in what do you think his 60s?

Nora Gillis 25:34
Yeah I think the average advisor ages 58 or 59 right now.

Jessica Weaver 25:38
Okay, very close to 60 and like you said, just have more women and also the next generation of women to come in as well, bring new life, new energy, new ideas, innovative, maybe more tech savvy, more creative on social media, there’s and then the, the other generation of female advisors they can help with right your best practices on how to grow and how to manage that relationship, nurture it, service it, there’s so much that can we can share and help each other with. You know it can feel very isolating when you go to those events and you’re the only female there and you’re right to me it’s very intimidating.

Nora Gillis 26:17
Exactly. And even when you sometimes don’t notice it, I’ve had men call it out they would look around the room and say oh, you’re the only woman here. I said well I did not notice that I did not fit in until you just called it out I thought we were just here as professionals and and colleagues and all of that and yes, you are correct I am I am the only woman

Jessica Weaver 26:46
Behold the female bashing jokes

Nora Gillis 26:51
To to to an extent. But what really interests me as well is not just diversity for diversity sake right there’s a lot of conversation around that right now. It’s more around bringing in different points of view and different approaches and just because this is how things have been done in the industry up until now, does not mean that’s the only way to do it, or that’s the best way to do it or also that our industry, Financial Services, is not really appealing to or connecting with a large segment of the population that we should be helping and that we should be connecting with. Because it comes from frequently this very entrenched and sometimes very old school, this is how we’ve done things so this is how we will keep doing things type of way and I think we can all benefit, our industry, the clients, you know I feel very passionately about women anywhere in the industry, outside of industry, stepping into their financial power their their economic power because that means options and flexibility for them and the ability to shape their lives as as they would like to shape their lives and then deliver more value to everybody else around them

Jessica Weaver 28:39
You said -power brings you options. And that I love that’s such a great quote that we’ll have to pull for social media and all these new pieces but stepping into that power can bring you so many different options, to me whenever I think of options I think of freedom, security, maybe stability right? You’re not feeling trapped or like you can breathe more relief. But power I love that Nora. Have you had mentors throughout your even your education and now your career. Have you had mentors?

Nora Gillis 29:40
Yes, I’ve I’ve been really really lucky to have wonderful mentors, and a lot of wonderful women mentors throughout my career and and my education and all of that. Currently, you know we have a wonderful CEO at assetmark -Natalie Wolfson it’s great being in a company led by a female CEO. And she’s actually been my mentor since before she stepped into the CEO role. Amazing. And that that was something that I kind of wanted for a long time, but I was not sure how do I how do I really connect with her this is a person I know, she was in a senior investment role at that time. But I don’t have that personal connection and all of the best, most exciting things in my life have really come when I’ve gathered the courage to step up and ask for what it is that I want that seems exciting to me. So I asked my current, my boss at that time, I said- how would you go about this, this is what I would would like to happen, do you think she would be open to it? And he was so amazing about saying, that’s a great idea, here’s I will help you. And here’s, here’s how you can approach that process. And it’s been so wonderfully helpful for me to be connected to this amazing female leader who, you know, during our time working together, has stepped into a CEO role and taken on all this front of responsibility, and leadership of a company and seeing her tackle that with so much thought and, and grace and so much courage. She She seems to have boundless, boundless courage, Natalie, it’s been quite amazing.

Jessica Weaver 32:01
Have some of that energy seep off of her onto you? And I love that she’s still growing. And she I’m sure on a personal level, on a professional level, and to me, that’s what you always want when you’re working with a coach, a mentor and advisor, that they’re still growing, because, you know, they’re just learning new nuggets and new experience every day. She’s stepping into the unknown probably every day taking on this role. Absolutely. You get to learn by watching her, by speaking with her. Everything. That’s incredible. Nora, what do you see for your future?

Nora Gillis 32:35
That’s a complicated question. No, no, it’s just something that I’m always thinking of. And I have worked with a coach, actually, as well. And this is another one of those things. As I said, all the best things have come to me when I ask. So when I started this role in January of 2020, what a fun time to start a new job. I reached out to my manager and said, I think I would really benefit from working with an external coaching person to help me with this transition. And he was kind enough to say, Sure, absolutely. You know, yeah that organization has been incredibly, incredibly supportive. So I have been working with Laura for, for all this time, really now. And the theme for for myself this year that I’ve arrived in speaking with her is I want to be writing my own story. Instead of thinking about what is the framework? And how do I fit into the framework, you know, what is the next step up the ladder perhaps. Which is how I’ve traditionally really thought, let me get to know the framework and then let me see how do I proceed from there? And I still think you, you need to know that that’s a very helpful thing to understand. How does this system function? How does this company, this industry function? But what I would like to do next is just lean into more of these things that are really engaging me personally, like working with you in your organization, right? I know that women’s empowerment and financial freedom and all of that just always seems to hit a chord with me and have something very personal in there. So I thought Great, let me let me do more of that. Let me

Jessica Weaver 34:55
What lights you up? What gives you energy back and that fulfillment versus just this is what’s supposed to be done. We talk about that a lot on the show is the box, right the framework as you’re describing it perfectly. And you’re right, it is good to understand and research that because then you’re also going to see the little pockets of inefficiencies or problems or where you can really make a huge change in it as well. So I get what you’re saying it is good to know how everything operates and runs and maybe you can do it differently or better. Or you can just catapult yourself into a whole different category. Exactly. Or create your own category, create your own. I remember seeing somebody talk about job titles and how job titles will box you in. Think outside of the job title into something so much more like putting together these events as community for women is not part of your job title Nora, but you’re thinking outside of that beyond just the responsibilities of the job.

Nora Gillis 35:56
Right? I find that very fulfilling. I am always learning something new. And I decided that I’m going to say yes, and pursue new things that excite me, personally and professionally, like this and when you asked me to potentially be on the podcast, I said, I’m very terrified but I’m also very excited. So let’s do this.

Jessica Weaver 36:22
Yes, even compliance gave me the Go ahead. So because I can’t have a high compliance but we’re so grateful for you, Nora, for you, for assetmark-one of our sponsors on our panel for our events, the hidden power of change, financial summit for women, for being on the show and for just continuing to build out this relationship and partnership with us at the woman’s wealth boutique. So thank you so much, Nora, and thank you for being on this episode of women behind the millions.

Nora Gillis 36:51
Thank you for having me.

Jessica Weaver 36:53
Thank you ladies for listening and always supporting us here at women behind the millions. We will see you on our next episode.