Today, within the financial services industry, women hold over half of the positions in many countries. But such seemingly substantial progress across the workforce conceals a more complex reality.
Despite a shift in dialogue and a growing recognition that the presence of women positively impacts business outcomes, across the upper echelons of financial management, female leaders are scarce. Women now occupy a significant number of entry-level roles, but still very few find their way up the ladder to land positions on boards and executive committees. Women’s global representation on executive committees in major financial services firms was only 20 per cent in comparison
Last year, having just started working at Acin—a SaaS firm working with banks to digitise their operational risk management I was researching speaking opportunities at conferences. Scanning through panel line-ups, it became increasingly obvious that the risk and control sector was no outlier with regard to diversity in financial services. The more influential the event, the fewer women were present. Senior women were not visible through platforms that enable them to make their own contribution to the industry conversation. A seed was planted in my head.
Of course, there have been gender equality initiatives in place in financial services for some time, ranging from diversity quotas to networking events. These have been helpful, but only in part. In my early career, the glass ceiling seemed a myth; I looked around at my teams and saw equal numbers of men and women. But once I climbed to higher-level meetings with trading desk heads and board members, the issue became strikingly obvious. Female talent is coming in, but no-one is nurturing it – a problem that no amount of quotas, or one-off conversations over canapes (if you can cast your mind back pre-Covid), can truly fix.
I decided to address the issue at its root. What women in this industry need, is an established community, a place where they can advise, mentor and empower one another on an ongoing basis. They need a way to build the skills and gain the visibility necessary to leverage their talent and move to the top of the ladder organically. Hence Women in Risk and Control (WIRC) was created, with the aim of building that community.
With Acin’s support, in January 2020, we set about building a powerful leadership team of Non-execs, MDs, Directors and VPs across the top-tier banks – with the influence and experience to positively impact gender diversity. We have now assembled an incredible group of women from all corners of the industry – including Sally Clark (NED at Metro Bank), Ariane Chappelle (CEO and MD of Chappelle), Bukola Adisa (founder and CEO of Career Masterclass and former controls framework head at Barclays), to name a few. This leadership team, alongside myself, will lead WIRC.
This November, we launched our first webinar, bringing together individuals from across the industry and the world to discuss the theme of resilience. Led by myself, Bukola, Sonja Jackman (Chief Control Officer at BNY Mellon) and Rosie Warin (CEO and Founder of Kin&Co), our discussion centred not only on fostering operational resilience across the banking ecosystem, but on fostering personal resilience – in our mental health, and in our career.
Personal resilience, Bukola astutely observed, is not innate but something we build up over time, like a muscle. Building on that, Sonja highlighted that even if you have the most wonderful systems and processes, without resilient people executing them you are lost. We tackled these issues head-on and will continue to do so in webinars to come. By making it personal, and delivering relatable stories and advice, I hoped to provide women with transferable knowledge and the momentum they need to keep on rising up the chain.
Over 100 individuals tuned in live, many more watched it back and a number of women have since expressed a desire to join our initiative, or even help lead it. I’m excited for the initial momentum, but the network is just beginning, and mentorship will be our next, crucial focus. Whilst the pandemic has normalised flexible working, to the benefit of those juggling work with family, it has also drastically reduced visibility and in that vein, potentially and possibly, it has negatively impacted gender diversity. It is now far harder to foster relationships, win advocates and build a profile, and unless we take active corrective action, we risk losing some of the progress that has already been made.
We don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to empowering the female leaders of our future by providing them with the platform they need to get there. Through sustained guidance, sponsorship and engagement, we can foster gender diversity from the ground up and enable genuine career progression throughout the industry.
Women in Risk and Control is a collaborative industry initiative to positively impact gender diversity in Non-Financial Risk Management at senior leadership levels, thereby enhancing the NFRM community.
Our aim is to collaborate to positively impact gender diversity in NFRM at senior levels through:
- Nurturing a cross-firm network of talent to reach their full potential
- Facilitating meaningful mentoring opportunities
- Providing a visible platform to enable progression and empower individuals
About the author
Rupal Patel is a Risk Solutions Specialist at Acin, specialising in Electronic Trading across financial services.
She has extensive experience at Tier 1 Banks, with expertise in Front Office, Finance and Operational Risk and has successfully tackled topics ranging from supervision to regulatory questions on the design and creation of risk frameworks. Rupal is passionate about non-financial risk management (NFRM) and has the experience, understanding and sensitivity to leverage Acin to solve client challenges across all functions. Rupal is also founder of the ‘Women In Risk and Control’ initiative which is supported by Acin to positively impact gender diversity at senior levels within NFRM.
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