Leasing Professionals

Christopher Burke explores why the financial services sector struggles to keep top female talent – and what can be done about it

Burke chris

A higher number of women than men begin their careers in the financial services (FS) sector.

Two-thirds of recruits are female, but this drops to 33% at middle management level and 18% in senior management positions.

In fact, the extent to which FS fails to retain women may be worse than initially thought. According to the FS Forum, 30% female board representation will still not be reached in 30 years’ time at current rates.

The consequence of this absence of female progression may be dissuading women from joining FS and causing them to pick other sectors to achieve professional success. With a chronic underrepresentation of women in managerial positions throughout FS, taking action should be a priority for senior executives in companies ranging from finance start-ups to international banks.

A gender neutral workforce from entry level to c-suite is still achievable and momentum is growing within FS to address the imbalance. A rising number of reports are also demonstrating 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.

Progressive companies with a diverse gender and ethic mix are also revealing above average financial performances.

One recent study indicated 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.

There are measurable and effective ways to implement change and increase gender diversity in the FS workplace.

Following a recent report, Women in Finance, the HM Treasury launched a charter requesting FS firms to sign up to key industry initiatives. These include the creation of supportive line managers to promote a diverse range of both women and men to work towards senior managerial positions.

Unconcious Bias training

A well-known high-street bank, for example, has launched compulsory Unconscious Bias training for its managing directors and directors, exploring the stereotypes we may hold – positive or negative – which can influence our behaviour, safeguarding against institutionalised biases and promoting staff on individual merit.

Through empowering employees with the technology and supportive culture to work flexibly, the persistent ‘dusk ‘til dawn’ culture can be dismantled – a crucial target for FS to reverse the trend of absent female figures in management positons. This cannot be entirely attributed to the childcare obligations of professional women – although more women than men still ‘bear the burden of childcare’ (Euromoney, July 2016 ).

A flexible and accommodating working culture has been shown to increase productivity, wellbeing, and help with attracting and crucially retaining top talent throughout a company.

At Brickendon, we have seen that enabling the achievement of personal goals combined with a progressive working culture means that our staff not only maximise their potential, but are enthusiastic and committed members of the workforce. Brickendon’s employee retention rate is currently 85% – having previously reached 95% – while two-thirds of our US-based employees are women.

To us, this is first-hand evidence that a consistent implementation of flexible working policies and progressive attitudes could transform inclusivity and diversity in the FS workplace.

Currently a total of 72 financial firms – employing over half a million people across the FS sector, have voluntarily committed to the government’s Women in Finance charter.  Although 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.

Christopher Burke is CEO of Brickendon

DLA Piper, May 2016
Empowering productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services, Virgin Money, July 2016  
Study conducted by Credit Suisse, as featured in: Empowering productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services, July 2016  
Sex Discrimination and the City, Euromoney, July 2016