I have over 15 years’ experience in the Financial Services industry, firstly working for a large financial services provider, and then more recently, setting up my own consultancy business (working with businesses in the financial services sector to help improve efficiency and implement change), with a colleague of mine, over a year ago.

The one thing that has been really prevalent for me is the lack of senior female business leaders and owners I have come across in both roles.

In the larger organisation there were of course many women working in a variety of roles, but not many in senior positions and only one at an Executive level; and that just seemed like a token effort.

In our time running a business, we have had over 200 meetings with different people in the industry; five of those meetings have been with women. This also rings true of any financial services events I attend, where I’d guess 90% of attendees are men.

This is backed up by a study performed by Oliver Wyman in 2016*, where they researched and analysed 381 financial services institutions in 32 countries. They found female representation on Executive Committees is growing much slower than on Boards. And this growth is only restricted to certain countries – in some countries female representation is declining. Their survey found that although men and women enter the financial services industry with the same levels of ambition, it is in the “mid-career” point where a significant gap opens up between men and women. They found that at this point, female managers and executives are 20 – 30% more likely to leave their employer than their peers in other industries. The following factors contribute to this shift

  • Insufficient flexible working options and stigma for using them
  • Insufficient support for family responsibilities, for both women and for men
  • Shortcomings with predictable, transparent and equitable promotion processes and equal pay
  • Unconscious biases and traditional assumptions associated with both men and women

A couple real life examples that I have personally encountered…I recently raised the lack of women in financial services with a well-recognised professional body, asking if more could be done to address this. I did receive a response, which was great, but it felt a bit “tick box”. This professional body holds many events across the country and the amount of women attendees is low; the number of women speakers is non-existent. I’ve attended 8 events in the last year and I haven’t heard a woman speaker yet. They have a campaign to address this issue but not one which actually gets more women interested in financial services at the outset. A second example is a suggestion from a large corporate that we should have a female bias when recruiting into senior roles – I’m not sure I agree that that either – that’s almost positive discrimination. I believe it is a person’s capability rather than their gender or race, that is the important factor. Someone should not be promoted into a role just because they are a woman or because they tick a box on the diversity scale. The right person should be selected for whatever role that is. I am also personally not a big fan of “women only” events or “women in business” lunches – I think that tends to alienate people and in my view reinforces some of the unconscious biases.

How should this be addressed, without artificially creating a culture that is effectively discriminatory?

Some thoughts:

  • Awareness of financial services could and should start at a younger age – at school or college. Financial services businesses and other peripheral services (e.g. consultancies like ours) could do more to engage with the future generations, so that a career appeals to anyone from any background. Highlighting what kinds of careers are possible within financial services – there is such a variety and opportunity to make a difference, whatever your specialism.
  • The role of the apprenticeship scheme and how that could facilitate getting women into financial services businesses at the beginning of their careers to encourage them to build a career and climb the ladder. Should the Government be doing more to help with this (e.g. subsidising salaries/training)?
  • What more could the professional bodies do? For example the FCA, the Professional Finance Society?
  • Perhaps we need a better understanding from women in financial services today. Are or were there any barriers for them? What attracted them to the industry in the first place? Has their gender ever been an issue in terms of career progression? Is there a capability issue which needs to be addressed? And then how could women across industries work together…are some industries doing better than others for example and why? Is it stereotype, history or something else?
  • Identification of female role models and speakers, who can attend industry events and forums now; this may then in turn, attract more women to attend events like that in the future.

In a world where America was so close to having their first female president, we now have Donald Trump, star of “The Apprentice”, who thinks… “It’s certainly not groundbreaking news that the early victories by the women on ‘The Apprentice’ were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal.” Interesting and perhaps scary times ahead. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign of things to come…