By Tracey Barnes, Operations Manager at Commercial Expert
It's no secret that financial services is yet another sector in need of a gender re-balance. Despite recent successful campaigns, evidence indicates that women occupying senior positions in finance are largely represented in support functions, rather than fee-generating roles. This suggests that gender diversity remains an issue and that there is still a lot of work to do to entice women to finance roles.
Tracey Barnes, Business Manager at Commercial Expert, is just one advocate for more women being welcomed into the sector. Tracey began her finance career at Barclays Bank after leaving school at 16. During her 18-year stint at the bank, she held various positions and finished working in corporate banking, before leaving to start a family. She later re-trained as a teaching assistant, and after 12 years working in primary school teaching, she decided to return to the finance sector, joining Commercial Expert over three years ago.
Here, Tracey discusses with Global Finance the measures that those in the sector could take to attract and retain larger numbers of female talent.
In recent times, the finance industry has attempted to encourage wider female uptake of roles. The Women in Finance Charter was formed in late 2017 by the HM Treasury and signatory firms, with a view to creating a better balanced and more inclusive financial services industry in the UK. Several initiatives soon followed, and we saw targeted recruitment campaigns, mentoring schemes, retention strategies and peer networking programmes. Positive results from these initiatives have been tangible, with The Women in Finance Charter reporting that women in senior positions rose from 30% (in 2017) to 38.5% in October 2020, an encouraging step in the right direction.
I'm passionate about championing gender diversity. I think women seek different things from men in their career, so if the finance industry is serious about recruiting and retaining more women, then companies need to revisit their offerings. So, what can Corporate and commercial finance firms can do to successfully attract more women?
Go Beyond the Pay Packet
Financial services companies need to up their game by understanding what women want from their careers. Simply offering an attractive salary and benefits is no longer sufficient.
Equal pay should be a given, and companies should also review their reward structures. The traditional commission system is very much outdated. Instead, a reward structure needs to encourage information sharing and team collaboration. Forward-thinking companies offer reward systems that recognise a team's achievement, rather than individual accomplishments. In a similar vein, reward structures should be a recognition of a person's skills and contribution, regardless of their position in the company. At Commercial Expert, it's a level playing field; success depends on how hard you work, how you manage your time and how organised you are. We have created fantastic opportunities for women working in commission-based roles.
Provide Meaningful Work and Purpose
One of the differences that I've noticed between men and women is that women tend to care more about the 'why.' So, for women, a job needs to have a clear purpose and needs to connect with our personal values. If women enjoy their work and believe that their contribution is making a difference, this increases job satisfaction and retention.
We've created roles specifically with women in mind, such as our 'Appointed Representatives' positions. They are ideal for organised, efficient, and driven women, who want the flexibility and independence of being their own boss, yet, they also have the support of being part of a wider team.
Create a Diverse and Inclusive Culture
When women look for jobs, the company culture is a really important consideration. Being in a culture where employees are empowered to do their job is vital, because women want to feel empowered to make decisions.
It's also important for women to work in a diverse and inclusive culture. Companies shouldn't just pay lip service to diversity and inclusion (D&I). A lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon and they've written a D&I policy, but the policy remains in a folder, not to be seen again until time to review it.
Companies need to either create or change their culture, to become inclusive and embrace diversity. This means creating a workplace where everyone feels able to express their opinion and can work collaboratively to solve problems. If this means training or creating D&I champions, then so be it. Every single person in the company has to emotionally invest in it.
Offer Flexible Working
For women with children, flexibility usually tops their priority list. Having the option to work flexible hours, with the ability to work from home are the 'must-haves.' It's important to add that, should women choose to work remotely, this shouldn't have a negative impact on their careers.
It's been argued that office workers have an edge over homeworkers, so making sure that homeworkers don't feel excluded will be key. One of the positive things to stem from the global pandemic is the rise in home working, meaning that such exclusion is less likely to occur, as work from home and hybrid working become increasingly mainstream.
Supportive Re-Entry Path
From my own personal experience, as someone who has taken a long break, I feel that companies need to offer a supportive re-entry path. When you've taken a long career break, and you decide to return to work, a lot of women (and men) can find the dreaded imposter syndrome kicking in. You start to doubt whether you still possess the ability and required skills to do the job. This is why it's important for companies to be supportive to women re-entering the workplace following leave. Nowadays, it's common for companies to offer keep-in-touch (KIT) days for women on maternity leave. Companies should also offer skills/update training and return to work programmes to ensure that the return to work is as smooth and easy as possible.
People commonly assume that finance remains a male-dominated environment, but this is becoming less the case. I've witnessed much positive change and progression over the years, and now find it very different to when I first started out. However, this doesn't mean the industry should rest on its laurels. For the finance industry to reach the levels of gender equality enjoyed by sectors such as PR or hospitality, there's still much work to be done.