Top 3 barriers to achieving gender balance in financial services #eachforequal

As the conversation around gender diversity in the workplace matures, it is becoming apparent that talking about ‘helping’ or ‘empowering’ women is not enough to make sustainable change.

The workforce is realising change can only come when achieving diversity becomes an aim for all; from clients and shareholders, to senior executives and new-entry graduates, the demand for equality has to come from all corners. This year’s International Women’s Day theme #eachforequal is in-line with this ethos:

Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. […] Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive. – International Women’s Day 2020

However, this is not to say that companies should ‘down tools’ on their gender diversity efforts and initiatives to proactively support and develop women in the workplace.

Male-dominated industries, such as financial services, will continue to rely heavily on such initiatives in their bid to achieve gender balance. From public commitments to targets, to driving women’s training initiatives, the sector is trying to make changes.

It is well-established that attracting women to the financial services industry is not the problem. Indeed, women account for more than 50% of entry-level roles in North America. Neither is it a problem of attrition:

The lower representation of women does not appear to be driven by attrition; in fact, company-level attrition among females is either equal to or lower than attrition among males for every financial-services role, except for the most senior positions. And yet, as they advance through their careers, women steadily lose ground to their male peers at every stage. McKinsey Women in the Workplace

What, then, continues to hold women back in financial services?

Kirsty Reynolds (Templar Advisors) spoke to gender imbalance and inclusion expert Anju Solanki, founder of MEA Consulting Group, about the top three barriers to achieving gender diversity in the financial services industry.

1. Lack of access to networks and sponsors: It is widely known that access to both informal and formal networks and sponsors accelerates career progression. To date, this has been geared towards men. With the majority of leadership positions held by men, they naturally tend to gravitate towards sponsoring (officially or unofficially) those who are similar to them. Also, women are typically slower to realise the value of a sponsorship relationship and cultivate it early on in their careers.

2. Gap in representation: “Role models are key to inspire female employees that it is achievable and realistic to accelerate their career paths and reach senior positions”, Anju explains. Many women avoid navigating the male-dominated hierarchy of workplace politics and work off the assumption that hard work will get them where they need to be because they do not see a clear alternative path.

3. Business culture: “Culture is created by behaviours of leaders, managers and ultimately each employee. Research has shown that typically masculine styles of working and traits are valued more than the typically feminine traits. Assertiveness and competitiveness override qualities such as collaboration, team work, empathy and the ability to build and influence relationships.

We are seeing now that the latter pays dividends to companies who are valuing these contributions. Whilst upskilling remains a key part of the growth of future talent, there is also room for a culture of appreciating diversity of thought and different ways of working,” Anju explains.

Investing in an organisational cultural mindset shift and focused training initiatives is a critical part of the path to achieving gender diversity.

Whilst there remains a lack of role models and natural sponsors for women, firms need to invest in ensuring their female employees are given an equal footing through both formal programmes to support women and changing firm cultures to be more inclusive.

At Templar Advisors, we have a comprehensive Women’s Development Series, offering our clients a suite of programmes to support training women across a broad spectrum of Gender Balance topics: Building Political Capital; Speaking Up; Own Your Brand; Executive Presence; and Negotiation for Women.


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