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While there has been great improvement since Lord Davies set out the 25% female board-level target for theFTSE 100 by 2015 -which has been exceeded now at 26.1% – the big global investment banks are falling noticeably behind commercial and diversified banks with women representing just 16% of its board membership. The industry is clear there is much to be done on gender representation, the latest public commitment to change being via the HM Treasury backed ‘Women in Finance Charter’. The charter requires public reporting for transparency and accountability on progress, and committing to linking pay of the senior executive team to delivery against these internal targets. And while pay gap reporting is not yet formally legislated, the expectation is that the government’s“closing the gender pay gap” consultation will result in regulations on publishing gender pay gap information to come into effect as early as October 2016.

Harriet Baldwin, former economic secretary to the Treasury was reported to have said earlier this year that “financial services was the most highly paid sector, but also had the highest gender pay gap, at 39.5%, compared with 19.2% across the economy. This means that for every pound earned by a man in the Square Mile, a woman earns just over 60p. Clearly then, more needs to be done to address gender imbalance, in terms of representation and equality of pay in investment banking, but how can this be achieved?

Evolve corporate culture

More progressive firms are investing time in proactively understanding the realities of the current culture and working to build a truly inclusive culture of the future. This isn’t simply evidenced through adopting progressive policies, but through systematic initiatives to embed authentic leadership behaviours, on-going programmes of bias education, and investment in the development of female talent as some key examples. We know that women make choices against joining a business if they can see the barriers for their progression outside in, and see a heavily male-dominated old boys’ club mentality self-perpetuated by homogenous leadership and a resistance to adopt new ways of working.

Assessing barriers for both entry and progression for female talent, and looking at how the culture of the organisation (perceived and real) affects both acquisition and retention of women is key.  What is the female candidate experience throughout the recruitment process? Are we adopting longer term engagement strategies and affording women an extended period to get to know the business and understand both horizontal and linear career trajectories?  Are we coaching leaders in the inclusive behaviours and the flex needed to better accommodate the diversity that greater female representation in teams brings? Are we able to showcase leadership development efforts, a culture where talent is recognised and able to deliver high performance not measured by presenteeism?

Look beyond the typical talent pools

Once there has been a mind-set shift and the importance of defining an inclusive culture is understood, it’s important to consider looking at atypical pools of talent. The investment banking sector has a heritage of being heavily male dominated and challenging the business to think beyond typical time-to-hire metrics and resource efficiencies is essential if you are going to afford the time to truly invest in sourcing and engaging female talent. Working to identify atypical talent pools via returner programmes, or launching education programmes for hiring communities that mean applying skill adjacencies to consider slightly different profiles rather than opting immediately for the “as before” model, are good starting points. The process of understanding critical roles, skill shortages and robust resource planning is at the foundation of these interventions.

Reviewing internal mobility processes

Finally, investment banks need to have a serious look at current internal mobility and honestly assess where they could be letting women down. There are numerous studies suggesting inequality in promotional opportunities, with reports indicating a tendency for females to be passed over for moves in favour of their male counterparts.Research compiled earlier this year by Emolument.com for International Women’s Day revealed that in the banking arena, it will take a woman on average two years longer to become a managing director than it would a man. Is there real transparency around internal opportunity, or do we “advertise” opportunities internally that are in reality already locked down? Are we losing female talent due to a sense of being trapped and undervalued, or do we lean on the arguments of balance and family to justify female attrition? Transparent, fair, meritocratic internal mobility processes need to be sustainably audited, monitored, and sadly policed if we hope to improve the retention and progression of female talent across all career bands.

The value that female talent brings to investment banks isn’t in question, and the business case for gender diversity is clear.There is no silver bullet, and we need to work at a cultural change level and persist in both acquisition and retention efforts to bring about the shift we want to see in the industry. The tips above should at minimum support in motivating the much needed momentum for the investment banking industry.

  • Aimee de Carcenac, Consulting Lead, Diversity & Inclusion, Alexander Mann Solutions