Upon first inspection of the financial services industry as a whole, the overall gender disparity is not immediately evident.
In fact, women outnumber men when it comes to junior finance roles, holding almost 60% of these. However, once you take a closer look it becomes very apparent that women are hugely under-represented when it comes to senior positions – just one in four are occupied by women.
Though there has been slight progress in gender parity at senior level, it has sadly been slow. The UK government has attempted to accelerate the representation of women in senior finance positions by introducing the ‘Women in Finance Charter’, committing over 200 financial services firms to promoting more women into senior roles.
In theory, imposing quotas appears to be an effective way to improve the gender parity in senior finance roles, however quotas only offer a short-term solution and could have adverse effects as women are much more likely to be propelled into senior positions purely due to this political measure, as opposed to in recognition of their work or abilities.
Senior managers must promote more women into senior finance positions, but should look to implement more effective, long-term methods other than just complying with government-imposed quotas.
Promoting more women into senior roles in the finance sector provides a win-win situation for firms. Not only can it help increase their reputations due to their stance on equality, but more importantly it will help acknowledge fresh talent and reward deserving, successful female employees. Here are some practical methods that should be looked into to help encourage more women into these senior finance roles:
Promote more women role models
It is difficult for a woman to aspire to a senior role if this role is only ever seen to be held by men. This is certainly a typical scenario in the finance industry. There are after all a large number of visible men in senior roles whereas, in contrast, there are significantly fewer women in these positions. Senior managers must make a greater effort to encourage more women to consider senior finance roles by shining the spotlight on some of the successful women already working at this level, so that aspirational women see these roles as genuinely achievable and aspire to reach them.
Firms can help in this process by facilitating opportunities for female staff to access and meet female role models, by inviting them to speak at the company for instance. Firms can also create and promote company and industry female finance networks, so that women in the industry can be connected through a positive network and inspire each other. The Durham University Business School (DUBS) alumni network, is a great example of this – it successfully connects women in finance alumni together to network and share their experiences.
Be proud of your success
Women should not be afraid of being proud of what they achieve. Often, women are shy when mentioning their successes, whereas men are usually vocal about what they achieve even if it is a small achievement. Within a project it is important for seniors to know who has done each piece of work, and women should take the credit for their actions and success. This will only give women more confidence and will impact not only their daily life but also their professional path by showing their management team they can add value to the company.
Teach finance and technology at a younger age
The finance industry constitutes a large proportion of the UK job market – employing over two million people. This figure is only likely to continue growing with more and more opportunities arising, especially with FinTech emerging as a new industry in which the possibilities are endless and the rules have not yet been set.
However, despite these industries offering much of the jobs of the future, there is little in the way of education in either finance or technology offered at a young age. It is important we promote finance and technology, and the opportunities they offer, to girls at a younger age to help encourage them to take an interest in the industry. Ensuring technology and finance education is easily accessible to young women will increase the numbers of women who want to pursue a career in the finance industry later in life by giving them the confidence that they have the knowledge and ability to compete with their male colleagues for those higher roles.
Firms can help to enhance the education of the finance sector and make school-aged girls more aware of the finance industry and its opportunities by hosting “females in finance” talks and seminars in schools and inviting schools to their firms as school trips.
Studies suggest when it comes to male-dominated workplaces such as the finance industry women tend to be less confident in their own abilities, and their capacity to learn new skills, compared to men. This can seriously hinder women when senior positions become available, as they often do not view themselves as capable enough to apply for these roles.
It is important employers engage with female staff to help boost their self-belief to ensure that more women are confident in their own qualifications and assured enough to apply for these senior roles and learn within them, whether they are qualified to take on 100 per cent of the proposed duties or not.
Encourage risk taking
Typically, in both their work activities, such as making or advising on investments, and in their personal development such as applying for promotions, women tend to be significantly more risk-averse than their male counterparts. Though risks may not always pay off, those who take them are often seen as bold and assertive in the eyes of their superiors. If the risks are not successful, it at least creates an opportunity to learn from previous failures, and to utilise what has been learned in future situations.
Employers should be active in encouraging their workforce regardless of gender to take calculated risks where appropriate instead of encouraging them to be overly cautious. Though risks may not always be successful, encouraging employees to take them will create a more proactive and innovative workforce.
Even though there are some obstacles in the finance and technology industry for women, I have this advice: be bold, be strong, be the future and be the change!
About the author
Emilie Allaert is Head of Operations and Projects at Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT). She has worked in the finance industry for eight years, after completing her Masters in Management at Durham University Business School.