Time to take up space: the changing attitudes towards women in finance 

two women in finance working together, hybrid working

Article by Teresa Cameron, Financial Director at Clear Junction.

For women in finance, the journey has been long, slow and often inconsistent – and it has only been over the last few years we’ve seen a huge push for representation.

Yet, while globally around 43% of the financial industry’s workforce are women, when we look at senior positions the numbers drastically change: only 18% of executive roles are held by women and there is around only a quarter that are on a board of directors, myself included.

No Girls Allowed 

I started my career in trading and brokerage and over 15 years I worked my way up to a partner position. As I gained seniority, the inequalities and roadblocks that made women feel unwelcome in higher-up positions started to reveal themselves. Rather than the boardroom, decisions were made in the boy’s club outside the office and I was a young mother with family responsibilities, so I was often left feeling completely alienated and not included in conversations, despite my position. I felt that I had to work twice as hard to be heard and when I was assertive, I would be labelled as ‘aggressive’.

Alongside this, there was little to no flexibility and a clear consensus that it was those who were in the office every day, and who stayed at their desk the longest, who were supposedly the hardest workers. I had a family and a full-time job, like three-quarters of working women, yet apparently, the industry couldn’t accommodate me, which eventually pushed me to leave in 2014.

When I left finance, I realised just how old-fashioned it was culturally compared to other industries. My soft skills were out of date because I had built up a harsh exterior that I needed in the male-dominated world of financial services. I worked at a not-for-profit music company and then moved to UNiDays, where I worked closely with the younger generation, interacting regularly with Gen Z. Their attitude towards sexism was much more positive and refreshing. Talking to students and getting their point of view, as well as from my daughter, I’ve seen that this generation are less willing to put up with discrimination and are more determined to tackle it head-on.

Leaving the industry gave me a fresh perspective

When COVID hit, everyone’s world changed and it was a chance to reassess how we were all doing things. Working from home was introduced and most of us have adjusted to hybrid working, which has become our ‘new normal’.

Hybrid working, done right, has provided better work-life support, team building and mutual respect. It has also helped demonstrate that women can fulfil their roles without the expectation that they need to be in the office from 9am to 5pm every day. One study found that female carers could add £60bn to the UK economy a year. For myself, flexible working meant the opportunity for me to return to finance — an industry I had loved — and work around my family commitments.

Even in a few short years, I found attitudes in the industry have changed. When I was a partner in trading and brokerage before I left, in one meeting a man asked me for a coffee and two sugars, obviously presuming that the only women who would be in the room would be assistants or secretaries.

It would be remiss to say that all of that has been swept away now, but there has been a noticeable shift. Calling women ‘emotional’ or ‘aggressive’ when they are simply as determined as their male colleagues is no longer swept under the rug. We feel we can rightly call discrimination out.

The company I work at now, Clear Junction, has a very forward-thinking and diverse team. Over 50% of our workforce is women, as well as over 50% of the senior management team—which is very rare in financial services. Our CEO, Dima Kats, is very clear on hiring on merit. I would never want to be hired just to bump up statistics or as a token and everyone here is here because they can do the job.

Forward to the future

Women have begun cementing themselves in finance and making ripples in the industry, but it takes perseverance. I never doubted myself, but there were times when it was hard. I was raising a young family, working full time and also studying to earn my CGMA and AMCT. I would study on the train to work, on the way home from work and when the kids were in bed. The obstacles and challenges made me more determined, but you also have to be twice as committed.

Now there are more initiatives to help women support each other. I see women championing each other, rather than competing. In the past, you would feel pressure to be the one woman who made it to the top position, because there were so few, but now our options are opening as we catch up to equality. I work with the Association for Corporate Treasurers as a mentor, helping women in their careers in treasury. Mentorships are proven to be effective in providing role models that other women can look up to.

Women are still hesitant to put themselves forward for roles that they perceive to either be high pressures or require a bigger commitment, scared they won’t be able to give as much as a male colleague would – especially those who are starting a family like I was. We’re seeing the spaces open up for us to prove ourselves and each woman who excels is a victory for all of us.

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