The lack of females in financial management positions
October 2016 | PROFESSIONAL INSIGHT | BANKING & FINANCE
Financier Worldwide Magazine
Despite more women than men starting in the financial services (FS) sector, only 19.5 percent of the industry’s senior roles are held by women, with many leaving at middle management level. Females also make up only 14 percent of FS executive committees. While it seems common knowledge that FS struggles to retain women, the problem may appear worse than first realised, with the FS Forum reporting that at the current level of growth, in 30 years’ time, the global FS sector will still not have reached 30 percent female board representation.
The failures of previous attempts to boost gender diversity have also become more apparent. A study this year found that 92 percent of women working in the FS sector felt raised publicity had brought about little or no change, while 65 percent of respondents believed that their gender hindered their chances of success in the sector. What’s more, a poll of 25,000 mostly female employees found that many feel there are too few role models for them to emulate. As a result, this perceived lack of female progression could be discouraging women from joining the sector and persuading them to choose alternative routes to pursue professional success. Accordingly, the sector is missing out on a large pool of talent and this must be addressed.
Retain your talent
Momentum is building within the FS sector to maintain a more gender neutral workforce from entry level to C-suite, with more reports highlighting the financial benefits of retaining female talent. On a macroeconomic scale, equalising women’s productivity and employment to men’s could add £600bn to the UK economy. Companies that have a diversity of ethnicity and gender are revealing above average financial results, with a recent study indicating that businesses with at least one woman on the board between 2006 and 2012 achieved an average equity return of 16 percent – 4 percent higher than those with no female board representation. Additionally, companies failing to appoint women to financial management positions risk losing top talent to savvier rivals, while not nurturing and retaining talented and ambitious women could lead to an industry-wide brain drain as they consider new careers in more attuned and progressive sectors.
Leave gender at the door
There are, however, tangible ways to increase gender diversity in the FS workplace. Following a recent Women in Finance report, the HM Treasury launched a charter asking FS firms to commit to key industry actions. Such actions included the appointment of supportive line managers to encourage a diverse range of women, and men to pursue top positions. For instance, one high street bank has implemented mandatory unconscious bias training for all of its managing directors and directors, referring to the positive and negative stereotypes that we may have and which can affect our behaviours to ensure employees are championed on merit.
Evolve cultural attitudes
Targets and quotas aside, the cultural attitudes within FS may be at the heart of the problem and must be improved for any substantial change, while a more proactive industry-wide response is still needed to offset previous failures and resolve the lack of women in financial management positions. Evolving the workplace ethos should be a priority and ways to accomplish this include encouraging women to return to the sector, improving maternity (and paternity) arrangements, while also considering implementing mentoring schemes and programmes aimed at female students.
Dismantle ‘dusk ‘til dawn’ culture
Another key action to consider is dismantling the ‘dusk ‘til dawn’ culture prevalent within the FS space, and providing employees with the technology and supportive culture needed to work more flexibly. This is not solely due to the perceived childcare obligations of professional women, even if more women than men still bear the burden of childcare. A flexible working culture has been shown to increase productivity, wellbeing, and aid with the attraction and retention of talent across the board. In our experience, facilitating the achievement of personal goals with a flexible working culture means that staff not only deliver to the best of their capabilities, but are even more engaged and committed members of the workforce.
Build on sector foundations
While all of these initiatives are important to consider, it is also worth bearing in mind how companies can evolve some of the foundational features and practices already well-established in the sector. Networking and gatherings are one such area and modernising these ‘old boys’ clubs’ requires a more concerted effort to offer a wide range of themes and opportunities more accessible to female employees. Curbing these somewhat macho FS environments can also improve confidence and self-belief among women aspiring to senior roles – an important step in accelerating the rate of women reaching management positions in the sector. Moreover, this could inspire the next generation of women in financial management positions to follow suit.
Although 72 financial firms, employing over half a million people across the breadth of FS, have signed up to the government’s Women in Finance charter voluntarily, there is still more that can be done. While this does show a cultural shift is gaining momentum, it could take a few years before change is fully cemented within the structure of a business. As such, FS companies should start implementing steps now, providing a supporting culture and flexible working to ensure they retain their female talent, encouraging them to progress through the ranks and toward a thriving career in financial services.
Christopher Burke is the CEO at Brickendon Consulting Limited. He can be contacted on +44 (0)203 693 2605 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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