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June

The Gender Gap - getting women into finance at home and abroad

Published: Thursday 31 May 2018

By Chrissy Jones

Is the financial services industry “male, pale and stale?” Only one in four of those who reach a senior position in the UK finance industry is a woman. The increase of women in the sector has been more of a trickle than a flood as the percentage of women working in senior positions increased only 1.5% in the last 2 years. There's clearly a way to go. Amid the current surge of campaigns and popular support for gender equality and speaking up about inappropriate behaviour, giving women equal rights and a fair representation in the workplace has never seemed more relevant. So how can the finance industry help women succeed in the sector?

Collective initiatives to support women

Women have been stealthily creeping up the career ladder in finance, but the prevalence of women in senior roles peters out in senior management roles. With only 12% of CEOs in US finance companies being women, there is clearly a lot more work to be done. Getting women into the industry requires buy-in from businesses themselves, and there is a perceptible shift.  For starters, the UK Government led initiative ‘Women in Finance Charter’ which encourages firms to reconsider their recruitment practices and initiatives, is an excellent catalyst for the industry to collectively address the issue. Signing up to the Charter demands a commitment to fair and inclusive recruitment practices, and supporting the professional development of women.

The Charter now includes a total of 141 firms which covers the Post Office (UK), Citi and KPMG. The intention for firms who sign up to the charter is a commitment to publish their diversity targets and aim for a 50/50 gender split in C-level roles.

The purpose of the charter is to improve gender diversity in senior positions in the finance industry, by connecting their remuneration and bonus schemes in leadership positions to these specific targets. Those companies who have signed up to the charter have also committed to publicly publishing their progress against these targets. It seems like a great idea, but is it actually working? Yes; almost two-thirds of firms who have signed up to the Charter have taken specific and measurable action to promote women in the workplace, and encourage women into more senior roles.

Some of the specific tactics used have included succession planning, reviewing recruitment practices and unconscious bias training, to help staff break down any obvious and more subtle cultural obstacles in the workplace. So successful have been the tactics used to promote gender equality, many firms are starting to use the principles of the Women in Finance Charter elsewhere in their firms, to ensure diversity of ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Guiding the next generation

Demonstrating positive role models and ensuring that there are opportunities for women in the finance industry is crucial. Many firms are now starting to offer mentoring schemes for women intending to move into the finance industry or young women aspiring to start their careers. Whether they’re small informal events, larger structured schemes, or peer support on an ad-hoc basis, all of these contribute to encouraging women to join the finance industry. Many young women may benefit from mentoring on everything from personal finance and starting their career, understanding how they can finance further training, through to business skills to help them get ahead. Likewise, celebrating women who have already made it to the top will help amplify the message that women are welcome in the finance industry.

Gender pay

Demonstrating women’s impact

Many firms are waking up to the fact that promoting women into senior roles isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. The diversity of leadership in an organisation is crucial to keeping firms at the cutting edge, dealing with some of the issues faced by the finance sector, and will improve the business performance over time.

There is evidence that with alternative perspectives, female leadership or equality of gender representation helps firms to a higher level of effectiveness and better returns. Both of those are essential for the finance industry to innovate and grow. In the workplace, women are likely to prioritise socially responsible and positive investments, meaning that women-led initiatives are highly likely to advance the industry as a whole.

Ways for women to access the finance industry

Younger employees such as millennials are starting to take a lead in the global economy. That is likely to mean that socially responsible investment will become more and more popular.

There is, without doubt, plenty of work for the finance industry to do to help encourage more women to join their ranks. Equally, there are also ways in which female employees can make themselves stand out from the crowd to help progress their careers in a very competitive market.

Opening doors - overseas work opportunities

One way to is to diversify and develop work-based skills by working abroad. Working overseas in a foreign business environment requires a very specific set of skills which many employees may not develop in their own country. This includes dealing with cultural issues where females are dealt with differently to how they’d expect to be treated at in their home country. While this may not always be a positive experience, many women have used it to their advantage. Those who have succeeded in their careers abroad in the finance and banking sector claimed that this experience helped to develop key personal characteristics helped them to progress: focus, a sense of self-confidence and worth, and a flexible attitude and open mind to different ways of working.

The future for women in finance – in the UK and overseas

The future for females in the finance industry does look promising. While it's easy to highlight the lack of equality in the finance industry, we should be showcasing and celebrating the examples where firms are actively encouraging women to succeed. It's only through doing this that the industry will begin to change more rapidly.