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Handing power back to women

How financial services can support female returners 

By Chris Burke, CEO of Brickendon

Chris Burke
Chris Burke

The financial services sector is in danger of losing key talent and is missing out on a huge resource. Perceived as male dominated and sporting a “dusk- ‘til-dawn” culture, banking and finance has historically been painted in an unfavourable light as far as women are concerned. Across the sector, females earn on average 18% less than their male counterparts, and this gap widens after childbirth.[i] Research has shown that women encounter numerous problems during their transition from maternity leave back into the world of work, including issues with confidence, anxiety and post-natal depression[ii]. In fact, the challenges women face when returning to any form of work, not just in financial services, cost the UK economy approximately £1.7billion a year[iii].

While the value that women offer to financial services, particularly at management level, is widely acknowledged as being significant in terms of experience, efficiency and knowledge,[iv] the number of women advancing up the career ladder decreases rapidly at middle-management level[v]. Arguably there’s a correlation between the number of women leaving the sector to have children and the decrease in the number of women in middle-management positions and to help decrease this disparity, businesses should be supporting these mothers to return to the financial services sector and continue their careers from where they left off.

Rise of “Returnships”

One of the most significant schemes aimed at rectifying this disparity is “returnships”.  A returnship is a designated programme and support system aimed at helping those returning to a higher-level, higher-paid position following a minimum of two years out of work.[vi]

A well-developed “returnship” is key to developing an inclusive culture and can offer a lifeline to help women to return to work in the financial services sector. These programmes, support individuals to develop their skills, as well as boost their confidence and adapt to the evolved corporate landscape. Introducing “returnships”into a business sends a clear message to mothers that they are valued talent, as well as promoting the possibility of pursuing a financial services career while raising a family to the current female workforce. 

Girl Power

It’s important to remember that gender diversity not only benefits the individual, but also a company’s future growth. Businesses with ethnic and gender diversity have reported above average financial results, with a recent study indicating 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.[vii]In addition, equality provides access to a larger talent pool, better decision making by bringing together different perspectives, a better service to customers, and a stronger economy. In fact, research has found that increasing the number of women in work by just five per cent could generate an extra £750m in tax revenue.[viii]

The financial services sector does recognise the need for diversity and gender equality, and improvements have been made. For example, the introduction of “returnships” can encourage financial service businesses to harness talent and provide a more supportive environment. However, like with anything, these companies should not just rely on one programme to support women re-entering the sector, but look at other means ofcreating an inclusive and supportive environment that suits the needs of both women and the business.

At Brickendon, one way we’re supporting women is through pioneering a diverse working culture that’s embedded in our core values. We have seen that facilitating the achievement of personal goals within a flexible working culture, means that our staff not only deliver to the best of their capabilities, but are also engaged and committed members of the workforce. As a result, we are seeking to increase the number of women in all roles and at all levels of the organisationto help other financial services firms support women returning to work and make the most of all the available talent, we’ve provided our top tips.

Mentoring schemes. Create a tailored mentoring programme or ‘buddy system’ system, pairing women in the workplace and allowing them to mentor each other. This way, female workers can provide guidance and advice to each other on a variety of issues, including how best to thrive in the financial services sector. Such a scheme not only provides support for returning mothers, but also helps raise awareness across the company, ultimately resulting in a more inclusive and accepting working environment. 

Leadership Academy. Develop a fast-track programme for returning mothers, providing them with the skills needed to advance in their career and take on executive positions. Programmes could examine the current economic and corporate landscape, as well as provide booster sessions on industry advancements, such as technology. This can help to impart confidence in the worker, by demonstrating they are still as well qualified and suited to the job – even with their time away.

Success for life workshops.Stimulate personal development through a series of workshops on a variety of topics affecting women in the workplace. For example, these sessions could examine building confidence, planning for the future, and managing workloads.By providing development sessions and coaching that isn’t purely focussed on the technical aspects of financial services, firms could strengthen their talent pool, as employees will feel supported and cared for.

Open and flexible working culture. Promote and encourage a flexible working environment where employees feel looked after and valued. Flexible working has grown tremendously in the last couple of years as firms recognise the need to be more lenient in allowing their employees to either work from home or have more flexibility with their standard working hours. Companies offering flexibility can attract and retain the highest calibre of talent.

A career in financial services can be challenging, but it is also one of the most rewarding jobs out there, not only financially,but also in satisfaction of personal achievements. Women are a pivotal part in the development of our industry and we must constantly address the challenges that are stopping the financial services sector from achieving gender equality. A key focus for us at Brickendon is to help mothers transition back into work seamlessly and most importantly encourage them to want to return.