More women than men start in the financial services (FS) sector, yet females only make up only 14 per cent of FS executive committees, with many leaving at middle management level. 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, global FS still will not have reached 30 per cent female board representation.
As a result, this perceived lack of female progression could be discouraging women from joining the sector and persuading them to choose alternative sectors to pursue professional success.
However momentum is building within FS 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 macro-economic 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 per cent – four per cent higher than those with no female board representation.
However, there’s tangible ways to increase gender diversity in the FS workplace. Following a recent report, Women in Finance, the HM Treasury launched a charter asking FS firms to commit to key industry actions. Such actions include 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, referring to the positive and negative stereotypes that we may have and which affect our behaviours, for all of its managing directors and Directors, to ensure employees are championed on merit.
Another key action is dismantling the “dusk till dawn” culture, and providing employees with the technology and supportive culture to work 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.
Currently, 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. While this shows a cultural shift is gaining momentum, it could take a few years before change is 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 towards a thriving career in Financial Services.
Chris Burke is the CEO of Brickendon.
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