Women in financial services look for policy change for career support

12 October 2018 Consultancy.uk

Over 50% of those polled in a new survey believe that an employee’s gender and or diversity can be a barrier to career progression in financial services. Transparent and fair appraisal process, investment and training, and flexible work are among a list of factors cited by women as ways employers can better support female staff in the sector.

The benefits of closing the gender gap in the workplace are broad, from a wider talent pool to improving social and normative values, to improved business performance. Progress in the space remains slow, though, and a host of issues hold back change. These include implicit biases, and an inflexibility of working practices.

As businesses and governments look for areas where this can be changed, new research from PwC has explored where small moves are able to create significant positive outcomes for businesses. The report is based on a survey of 290 professional women working in financial services (FS) and is part of a wider survey of 3,627 professional women across global industries and sectors.

Top five moves women believe will improve their opportunities in FS

The front-runner in a list of simple improvements recommended by respondents is the creation of a fair and transparent appraisal process. According to the researchers, everyone needs to feel that there are no glass barriers inhibiting their process. Women also feel strongly that there needs to be investment in the training and continued education of employees. Areas in which women have seen positive changes are the provision of skills and assessments to help employees understand strengths and development areas, as well as workplace culture to support equal opportunity for progression.

Ambition and retention

Women are keen to climb the ranks to the position suited to their skills and ability. The vast majority are confident that they will fulfil their career aspirations (83%), with the vast majority also saying that they have confidence in their ability to lead (81%). However, many women are still weighted down by numerous commitments, as they strive for both family and career goals.

Despite this, most women are confident that they can balance their goals, and 80% feel that flexibility to meet both is fairly/very important. 77% of respondents say that they are actively seeking out opportunities to advance their careers, while 68% said that they aspire to be a leader/top-level executive.

Barriers to retention

Women note that various barriers remain however, with 54% of women in the financial services in particular saying that an employee’s diversity status (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) can be a barrier to career progression in their organisation. While 53% of women in financial services said that they are nervous about the impact that having children might have on their career, compared to 42% of all respondents.

There are other major concerns among respondents, with 60% of financial services respondents saying that they have been talked over/ignored in a meeting, while a similar number said that an idea they came up with was incorrectly attributed to a male colleague.

Incidence of bullying and harassment

Other areas of major concern too were noted, with 43% of FS respondents saying that they have experienced inappropriate language, insults or bullying during the past two years, almost 10% higher than across all industries. Women in FS were also more likely to face sexual innuendos or sexual harassment, at 36% compared to 25%. Finally, 28% of respondents noted that they faced actual physical harassment in the FS industry, compared to 18% across all industries.

Tackling these and similar issues remain a key area of attention for executives seeking to level the playing field and create an inclusive – safe – environment for their staff.

Support remains a key way of improving the lot of women in the business world, in terms of formal structures to train future leaders, as well as informal measures to create role models or provide knowledge sharing. Management support is of key importance, focused on the provision of formal and informal training. One key area in which businesses can support women is through executive buy-in. The top holds considerable sway on wider policy outcomes

Barriers to flexibility

A change of attitude toward people who work flexibly is one of the ways employers can better support women in the workplace. Traditionally, such people are regarded as less committed in the organisation, and 51% of respondents said that taking advantage of work-life balance/flexibility programmes has negative career consequences at their workplace. 47% of respondents said that the current demands of their role significantly interfere with their personal life.

Related: Elixirr Partner Clare Filby on how getting ahead is a two-way street.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.