Several studies have in recent years shown that the top ranks of the financial services industry face a lack of women. Chris Burke, CEO of management consultancy Brickendon, explains why the leaders of banks, insurers and other financial services institutions should work harder to retain female talent.
More women than men start in the financial services (FS) sector, yet females only make up only 16 percent of FS executive committees, with many leaving at middle management level, found a recent study by Oliver Wyman. While it seems common knowledge FS struggles to retain women the problem may appear worse than first realised, with the FS Forum reporting that at the current level of growth, in 30 years’ time, global FS still will not have reached 30% female board representation. As a result, this perceived lack of female progression could be discouraging women from joining the sector and persuading them to choose alternative sectors to pursue professional success.
However momentum is building within FS to maintain a more gender neutral workforce from entry level to C-suite, with more reports highlighting the financial benefits of retaining female talent. On a macro-economic scale, equalising women’s productivity and employment to men’s could add £600 billion to the UK economy. Companies who have a diversity of ethnicity and gender are revealing above average financial results, with a recent study indicating that businesses with at least one woman on the Board between 2006 and 2012 achieved an average equity return of 16% – four percent higher than those with no female Board representation.
However, there’s tangible ways to increase gender diversity in the FS workplace. Following a recent report, Women in Finance, the HM Treasury launched a charter asking FS firms to commit to key industry actions. Such actions include the appointment of supportive line managers to encourage a diverse range of women, and men to pursue top positions. For instance, one high street bank has implemented mandatory Unconscious Bias training, referring to the positive and negative stereotypes that we may have and which affect our behaviours (e.g. female leaders in fact outperform men in both social and soft skills), for all of its Managing Directors and Directors, to ensure employees are championed on merit.
Another key action is dismantling the ‘dusk ‘til dawn’ culture, and providing employees with the technology and supportive culture to work flexibly. This is not solely due to the perceived childcare obligations of professional women, even if more women than men still ‘bear the burden of childcare’. A flexible working culture has been shown to increase productivity, wellbeing, and aid with the attraction and retention of talent across the board.
At Brickendon, we have seen that facilitating the achievement of personal goals with a flexible working culture, means that our staff not only deliver to the best of their capabilities, but are engaged and committed members of the workforce. Two-thirds of our employees based in the United States are female, while our retention rate is 85% and has been as high as 95% in the past. As a result, we have seen first-hand evidence that a consistent implementation of flexible working policies and the provision of the technology to support, could revolutionise inclusion in the FS workplace.
Currently, 72 financial firms, employing over half a million people across the breadth of FS, have signed up to the government’s Women in Finance charter voluntarily. While this shows a cultural shift is gaining momentum, it could take a few years before change is cemented within the structure of a business. As such, FS companies should start implementing steps now, providing a supporting culture and flexible working to ensure they retain their female talent, encouraging them to progress through the ranks and towards a thriving career in Financial Services.