Opening doors to women in the finance sector

women in finance

Diversity in the finance sector has come a long way in the last decade but is still in need of improvement from entry right through to the boardroom.

Women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and individuals from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are still under-represented at every level.

The government has proposed ambitious targets to close the gender gap in the FTSE 100 Banking and Finance sector by 2020. There’s been some progress, with women board members now at 25%. Ethnic minorities fare worse at just 8.8% of board membership, while both women and minorities hit a solid glass ceiling trying to reach Chair, CEO, and CFO positions.

Initiatives, such as the Women in Finance Charter, set up to encourage greater gender balance across the financial sector is beginning to have an impact. So far, 205 companies are signatories to The Charter, covering 650,000 employees in the UK.

So how do we help change the picture?

We’re working to increase diversity in the sector through initiatives aimed at young women and diverse communities. Our REACH – Routes to Enhancing Achievement – events are designed to motivate students from underrepresented groups. Our most recent event was focused on empowering women to consider careers in banking and finance by giving them access to role models who have also trodden that path.

Whilst these events are aimed at young people, the stories and lessons that come through apply to a much wider audience. Here are the tips that hopefully will inspire other women to think about the possibilities of a career in financial services.

All skill sets are valuable

It’s a common misconception that the low paid, part-time jobs typically undertaken by young people as they start their journey to adult life won’t help them get on the ladder in future careers or provide skills they can draw on in future.

But speaking at our most recent REACH event, Molly Blincow, Principal at Murano, an international investment firm, credited the skills and resilience she learned from various customer service roles outside the financial industry for helping secure her first role in the sector. Within four years at her current firm, and before the age of 30, she had risen to a director role. This she believes would not have been possible if she had not had prior working experience. The skill set she developed proved invaluable.

More women should apply

Unfortunately, her rapid rise in the financial field is not typical as the industry struggles to get applications from young women. Of the 400 applications for one job Molly’s company posted recently, only 18 applicants were female.

Molly said: “More women need to hold senior roles within the financial sector. Young people need to see more female role models and women in finance need to inform, support and develop women within the industry so others are encouraged to pursue very rewarding careers.”

The picture is slowly changing with more young women starting to think about financial services as a career that offers real opportunity and different options for them.

There’s no difference between men and women

A Goldman Sachs Executive who studied BSc (Hons) Finance, Investment & Risk at The London Institute of Banking & Finance said:

“My gender hasn’t stopped me from achieving success, but one thing that needs to change is the perception of women in the workforce. There is really no difference between what women can do and what men can do,” she said.

Find a role model

It’s critical that young women see ‘people like them’ getting roles and progressing in their careers, but what happens if you don’t have a role model?

The REACH panel members each highlighted the fact that it’s hard to find a role model with fewer women in the workforce. They advised new employees to be their own role model and pursue their own goals. You can emulate lots of people, man or a woman, but ultimately you will have to form your own path.

Seek out a mentor

Another option is to network and seek a mentor from the sector you’re interested in getting into.

Women from top financial services companies talked about both the challenges and positive experiences of promoting diversity in their companies and took the time to do ‘speed networking sessions with the students. Many of them offered to be mentors and students said they felt empowered, informed, motivated – a great outcome.

More information on a career in financial services

About the author

Hema Tank is Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance, a registered charity and leading provider of financial education. It’s a specialist university college providing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in banking and finance; and an awarding body for professional qualifications in the sector.

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