The financial services industry was one of the first sectors to appreciate the benefits of gender diversity and during my career in the sector it has invested a lot of time and money trying to address this issue.
To be more successful will require a culture shift. I would say now that typically the top of the house is completely in order – chairs, boards and executive committees all completely appreciate the benefits of having a diverse business. However, that attitude doesn’t always permeate down through the organisation.
Sometimes you still have resistance in middle management, for instance, pockets where women find it really difficult because of a micro-culture within the business. That might be a ‘long hours’ culture or an environment where women don’t feel their achievements are recognised in the same way as male colleagues, or that it’s just not a particularly enjoyable place to work because the environment is not diverse.
So what else can be done? A few years ago we did a study looking at women in financial services which revealed that sometimes they can be naïve about the importance of cultivating a network and sponsors in and outside the organisation, to help develop their careers. Men were more savvy about this. Lots of women early in their career just thought, ‘I’ll do a good job and it will be recognised’. But the guys could do a mediocre job, much more networking and be recognised more quickly.
So mentoring young women coming into the industry on the importance of developing networks is critical so that they learn this earlier – ideally at school or university – and aren’t left to figure it out for themselves.
I’ve also seen quite a shift in flexible working being embraced over my time in the industry. Though whilst it’s becoming much more common for dual income families to have more of a shared responsibility for childcare, we still have some way to go. Whilst the law is moving in the right direction, socially I’m not sure how many couples feel comfortable sharing parental leave for example.
One of my sisters lives in Germany and when her daughter was born she and her husband shared 12 months parental leave equally and now they both work a four day week. In the UK I think fewer men and women would feel comfortable making that choice regardless of whether it’s theoretically available to them. So it’s great that people have more flexibility, but do they actually feel able to use it?
Looking forward, change in financial services is inevitable. The nature of the skills that will be required in 5 and 10 years’ time will be quite different to what’s gone before and we’re not necessarily going to find those people from within the industry. I think we need to think about how we attract those people to the sector. If for example, they bring technology skills they are likely to have the pick of pretty much every sector - so we have to think about how we promote financial services.
New people coming in will likely want to work in different ways so adopting more flexible ways of working should be a natural consequence of this change. The financial services industry has gone some way to embracing change during my career, but there’s definitely still room for improvement.
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