Oliver Wyman: Fix industry, not women, for diversity

05 January 2015 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

The number of female senior roles is the lowest in the financial services industry, with women less than half as likely as men to progress from a mid-level to a senior level position, concludes consulting firm Oliver Wyman. The firm states that current working practices in this industry are not supporting women progression, and although many efforts are made to help the women fit in, more needs to be done. Focus should shift from ‘fixing’ the women to ‘fixing’ the male-driven industry that is not encouraging women succeeding to the top.

In its recently released ‘Women in Financial Services’ report, management consulting firm Oliver Wyman analysed the gender mix of senior staff at over 150 financial services firms internationally (including investment banks, retail banks, insurance companies and money managers) internationally,  interviewed over 60 senior women (and some men) and surveyed over 1,000 current and potential financial services employees from five countries. The firm’s overall conclusion of the report is that the female representation at CEO level and in Executive Committees (ExCo) at leading financial services companies remains low.

In its survey, Oliver Wyman not only compared the percentages of women at ExCo levels in different countries, and the roles they fulfil if they do climb the ranks to the top level, the firm also compared the different sectors. The research shows that although imbalance in senior leadership is a challenge in many industries, the challenges remains higher in the financial services industry than in other sectors, as these are only 45% as likely to progress from middle to senior levels of management relative to their male counterparts. In other words, it is less than half as likely for a woman in financial services to progress from a mid-level to a senior level position as it is for a man. Other sectors with low probability rates are Real Estate (47%), Health (49%) and Wholesale (51%). The utilities industry shows the greatest probability, with 100% probability for women to progress to the senior compared to men, followed by Mining + O&G (90%), and Public (85%).

Women in financial services are, however, among the women fourth most probable to progress from junior to mid-level with 87%. In the IT sector, with 105%, which translates in an advantage of women over men, women are most likely to progress to mid-level, followed by Tech, and Entertainment.

According to the consulting firm, “current working practices in financial services do not support female success” and 55% of the women surveyed said that “it is harder for women to reach senior leadership roles in financial services than it is for men.” The industry has, however, put much (senior) effort into diversity programmes and tried to help women progress, through for instance networking, training, flexible working arrangements, but this is not enough, say Nick Studer, Managing Partner Financial Services at Oliver Wyman and Michelle Daisley, Partner at Oliver Wyman and Lead Author of Women in Financial Services. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ the women, senior management should be trying to ‘fix’ the industry or the firm as the industry is still a very testosterone-driven industry. They explain that it is still a culture of long hours and ‘face-time’ disadvantages for those who wish to work more flexibly to combine their home and work responsibilities. In addition, women are less likely than men to be sponsored and mentored by senior management and can struggle to find role models.

Studer and Daisley conclude that “in order for to succeed, diversity must move from a nice-to-have human resources project to a basic requirement for the leadership of financial institutions.”