It’s 2022 and we should be operating in a time where there is equality in terms of opportunity, pay and treatment for both men and women in the financial services.  But to our disappointment, there still remains a problem with gender bias. Our white paper – The Gender Gap: Change Starts With Bravery – explores the challenges facing financial services, the desire for change and the actions required to close the gap once and for all.

In the third section of our white paper, we looked at the less tangible impact of gender disparity within the industry: low confidence, imposter syndrome and the need for bravery.

Our broad-ranging and in-depth research included interviews with female leaders in financial services. When we spoke with them, one of the key themes to emerge was confidence.

4 of the 11 senior women we spoke to identified with experiencing or having low confidence at work.

Despite their evident success, they explained they’ve at times felt self-conscious, lacking in confidence or have experienced ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It also seems these experiences do not dissipate with career progression – but come and go throughout.

100% of the senior women asked said they experience Imposter Syndrome

On a positive note, more women than ever are taking up careers in financial services.

They are also working through to senior positions and entering what used to be, and sometimes still is, ‘a man’s world’. Through this, however, they are often carrying these unconscious biases and limiting self-beliefs from the messages received as young girls, or early in their careers, which impact confidence.

Seven of our respondents explained that in a male-dominated business, they’ve seen men continue to recruit male friends or male colleagues who exuded a similar image to their own. This can prevent diversity of thought in those senior leadership positions, which could further discourage female employees from applying for future positions.

So, what do we need to counter this prevailing view?

Role Models
We should see more female role models  in the sector; women who are successful by acting like themselves and not trying to emulate specific characteristics they feel are needed to succeed; embracing the behaviours, skills and diversity they bring. Women who are supportive of and not in competition with one another, and encourage bravery and risk-taking, not perfection.

As one of our interviewees, Gillian Hepburn, head of UK intermediary solutions at Schroders, advisory board member of women in asset servicing, and organiser for women in platforms said: “I think it’s about valuing ourselves and supporting each other, having female role models, coaching each other and admitting that none of us are perfect and we’ve all made mistakes. Be honest about your strengths and weakness too.”

If women in financial services can look at other women in the industry and see them progressing and delivering good outcomes authentically then this can only encourage and inspire them. It can also challenge the narrative that women have to behave a certain way or conform to certain stereotypes in order to progress into senior leadership roles.

Mentoring and Coaching
We’re seeing that many women aren’t asking for pay rises they know they deserve and women who do progress into senior roles are often asked or encouraged, rather than actively applying. To aid retention and progression, firms need to look at their talent management models and implement mentoring and coaching schemes to equip their female employees with the right skills early on in their career. This will enable them to see the value they add and instil confidence and bravery so they can courageously go and ask for what they want and deserve.

Setting targets to include women on boards and in senior leadership teams will hopefully see women who are right for the job being recruited, but some firms may simply recruit for the sake of hitting their target quota, thus not recruiting the appropriately skilled woman for the job. Regardless, once women are in those positions, if ‘like-for-like’ recruitment naturally prevails, can we eventually see more women who are right for the job, entering the board room and sitting at a table where there’s gender equality?

Ensuring that interview panels and boards are gender-balanced and following the correct recruitment process could help stop gender bias from seeping into recruitment decisions and ensure and demonstrate recruitment has been conducted fairly and properly – based simply on who is right for the job.

Male Allies
When one talks about the confidence issues women face, it’s not to say solely women experience them – men do too. However, it is important to appreciate these challenges are more present for women today because of the historical and present gender bias, which has ultimately limited self-belief.

When women are in senior positions, they are usually one of few women in the team or at the table, which  spurs on imposter feelings. Male colleagues need to be allies and advocates of women in the workplace so they can help foster a supportive culture and actively participate in bringing about systemic change.

Click here to read our full white paper for more recommendations to close the gender gap.


Natasha Birchall

Wealth Consultant