Women in financial services look for policy change for career support

12 October 2018 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

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.