Why do you support the HeForShe campaign?
My career has been framed in human capital for over 24 years, with the majority in financial services, and can say unequivocally that diversity in the workplace is not an optional “nice to have”. Fundamentally it is a question of common sense, but it’s just good business sense to be able to access 100% of your potential workforce, 100% of your customers and 100% of your client base.
We have been fortunate enough to see this in our own business – women have been pivotal to our phenomenal growth – not only have they provided strong leadership, being an entirely female senior management team, but 8 out of the top 10 performers are women, and several work part-time having returned from maternity leave.
Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?
Half the population are women and at a very basic level it will only be possible to affect change if the other half is properly engaged. But ultimately the issue is about leadership. There are countless studies showing that diversity increases the profitability of an organisation, but the proportion of senior jobs held by women in financial services is still strikingly low, at around a fifth. It is this senior level that is responsible for ensuring that their company provides a culture and working environment that is supportive of women. So more often than not this means looking to the men, currently over represented in leadership positions, to steer the way.
How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?
There has been a step change in the last few years and campaigns such as HeForShe have had a significant impact in highlighting the gender parity issue. It is certainly at the top of the hiring agenda for all of our clients, from the largest banking institutions and asset managers, filtering right through to the boutiques. We are slowly seeing this have an impact at senior and middle management level, and particularly men with hiring responsibilities. We hold an annual diversity forum in financial services and have seen men become increasingly vocal participants, keen to contribute to institutional change and advocating support for the female talent pipeline.
Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?
Obviously gender inequality is everyone’s problem. Some men may not see the impact until it has a direct effect on them – as their wife faces challenges returning to work, their sister is passed over for promotion or their daughter struggles to gain access to a career in a particular sector – but it is something men need to engage with.
Women’s groups provide an essential forum for professional networking, but I’m aware of the criticism that they can appear to be catering solely to a ‘minority’ group, which women clearly aren’t. In my opinion the more successful groups are inclusive, but have a specific offering tailored to female members.
What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?
The approach has to be inclusive and based around the business benefits. The gender debate has been the catalyst for a range of tangible benefits for everyone in the workplace, such as paternity leave, shared parental leave, flexible working and greater transparency over remuneration.
Ultimately every employer wants the best talent working for their business, every manager wants the best person for the job in their team, and every employee wants to work alongside the best in the market. What we need to move away from is dialogue framed around ‘special treatment’ for women, and focus instead on how employers can accommodate the diverse needs of all their employees so that everyone can be their best in the workplace.
Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?
I am deeply privileged to have mentored a number of women. One I have been very proud to watch as her career has gone from strength to strength, was a new graduate when I originally hired her, and have mentored now for nearly 20 years.
Over the course of this time she has held some of the most senior roles in the industry and gone on to mentor many other women. A personal highlight for me was when she received recognition from a leading industry body for their Agency Leader of the Year award. I am fortunate enough that she is now a fellow board member and Chief Operating Officer of The FISER Group.
In my opinion mentoring should go hand in hand with sponsorship – advocating an individual for a role or promotion and actively helping that person advance. This is particularly important for anyone attempting to progress past the middle management level, but where unfortunately too many talented women are forced to languish.
Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women?
We know from our own research which tracks the engagement and representation of women in financial institutions – the WiFI Index – that women approach their careers differently. Women tend to be more risk averse; they are less likely to leave a role and less likely to apply for a promotion unless they feel their meet all of the criteria. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but employers and hiring managers need to be aware of the barriers that women face progressing their careers and how this might impact hiring and promotion decisions. For example, we also know that 1/3 more men interview than women in financial services and men are 8.5% more likely to receive a job offer than women in financial services. This makes it clear that financial institutions need a coherent strategy for overcoming the barriers women experience, to make more significant headway towards gender equality.