By Ying Panagiotou, Head of Trading, Capital.com
According to the Empowering Productivity Report in 2016, more women than men start a career in the financial services sector but as they progress and develop, especially in mid-level management, the majority fall out.
The report argues that a more balanced workforce empowers employees to perform better, improve the overall culture and have an impact on productivity and profitability of the business. However, if that is the case, why are so many businesses still struggling with gender inequality?
In a traditionally male-dominated sector such as finance, women aren’t always made to feel welcome and are, at times, marginalised because of the highly pressured, competitive and demanding environment. Although there are a range of issues that financial institutions need to address in order to develop an inclusive workforce at all levels, the first step in doing so is for senior managers to address some of these issues in boardrooms. Decision makers need to discuss the relative poorer career prospects of women in financial services, and develop tools and programmes to tackle issues such as unconscious bias and gender-role expectations.
However, while there is much still to be done, the traditional landscape where women could not have a say in the boardroom is changing, and this is due to the innovative mindset of fintech start-ups. This new breed of financial services company has created collaborative environments, where everyone has a voice, and anyone who wants to contribute can choose to do so.
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While the industry is going through a slow but positive change, women’s attitudes are changing too. Women are becoming more confident in challenging roles that were traditionally occupied by men, and they are not afraid to express their opinions and speak up when they want to. It might be some time before the industry achieves substantial gender equality, but a positive change is definitely underway.
Women do not expect to receive special treatment, they just want to be valued on the basis of their competence at the job and for the work they do. The UK Government has been very supportive with initiatives, such as the Our Time programme, helping women to find their voice and succeed across a wide range of industries, including the financial services sector. There are also a number of independent bodies, such as the Women in Finance Network, empowering women in finance to collaborate and grow stronger together.
These initiatives can play a crucial role in encouraging women to explore and take on more senior leadership roles, pushing and empowering women to become stronger. However, senior staff within organisations should also play an important role in the career development of women in finance. Women who have climbed the ladder to occupy senior positions have a responsibility to act as a mentor to younger women and share advice on career progression. Most importantly, support should come from across senior management teams to offer the opportunities for their female colleagues to advance in organisations and develop their careers.
The next generation should not only be taught how to perform their jobs well, but they should also be encouraged to take a stand on current issues around gender inequality, and be encouraged to develop an empowering mindset so that they can have a greater impact on the industry in the future. Women can also look to prominent figures in the finance industry for inspiration, such as Christine Lagarde, Managing Director at the IMF, and Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO at JP Morgan Asset Management.
At the beginning of my career, I worked harder than I needed to in order to show the men around me that I was able to get the job done. I think it is easy for women, who are at the beginning of their career, to feel intimidated in such a male-dominated industry, especially young female graduates who are not necessarily aware of the long hours and high-pressure, highly-demanding environment. However, I believe that as women progress through their career they learn to trust their abilities and gain valuable insights that they can pass on to their younger colleagues.
While women often focus on what they cannot do in a male dominated industry, they should recognise what they are good at and how to use it for their benefit. For example, women pay a great amount of attention to detail when solving problems. Instead of making obvious assumptions or taking irrational risks, they often analyse all the possible outcomes before making an important decision. Women are also resilient and always try to reach the best possible outcomes. These are fantastic characteristics that they should be proud of and use to their full extent to rise through the financial sector and fulfil their potential.