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Women’s role in financial services has failed to shift – Jackie Uhi

by: Jackie Uhi, managing director, mortgage distribution at Barclays
  • 07/06/2016
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Women’s role in financial services has failed to shift – Jackie Uhi
With the role of women in senior financial services roles still as much of a hot topic as it was a few years ago, Jackie Uhi looks at if and how the industry has lived up to expectations on gender equality.

Around this time two years ago Mortgage Solutions reported on the issues facing women applying for senior financial services roles in an article entitled ‘Attracting women to senior roles needs top down leadership’. This piece highlighted two strategies for women to help break down barriers in establishing top level positions; make flexible working options available to senior managers and make it acceptable to choose these options without the fear of being judged ‘lazy’.

So here we are two years on and what has changed?

Well, on an encouraging note we’ve seen the emergence of more female commentators within the industry and some changes in attitude regarding the importance, and importantly talents, of women in the workplace. However, when it comes to opportunities at the top level there seems to be little evidence of any substantial shift. And let’s not get started on the gender pay gap. But it’s not that the will or commitment to the cause has faded. In recent weeks, a number of leading banks, including Barclays, have pledged to tackle gender imbalance in the UK financial services sector by signing up to a new voluntary charter.

The Women in Finance Charter was launched by HM Treasury following recommendations made by Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money, who recently carried out the review – Empowering Productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services.

The review itself revealed some interesting statistics which are worth reminding ourselves of. It outlined that financial services firms employ more women than men but only a few women progress beyond middle management levels, leaving most of the top jobs in the hands of men. It also highlighted that in 2015, women were said to make up 23% of boards in the financial services sector but that their representation on executive committees amounted to only 14%.

A telling comment was: “Too few women get to the top and there is a “permafrost” in the mid-tier where women do not progress or they leave the sector. This is not just about childcare. Women are leaving because the culture isn’t right.”

The theory behind the Charter, to increase the number of women in senior leadership positions, serves as a positive message with participants committed to implementing the recommendations set out in the review. Recommendations which should be at the heart of any business.

The call for more females in higher-level positions isn’t one based solely around women’s rights. The impact of leaders at all levels of business with different skill-sets, mind-sets, experience and backgrounds shouldn’t be underestimated.

Studies show that companies with a high representation of women board members significantly outperformed those with no female directors. So why aren’t there more? The answer is complex, wide-ranging and as yet, still partly unknown. But the more we keep asking the question, the closer we will get to solving the problem.

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