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Girl Power

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A fair deal for the fair sex? - The role of women in the financial services industry

Soft skills get hard results!
Amana Walker, Director, WalkAhead Ltd

Women must value themselves for who they really are
Dr Deborah Swallow, Management Development Director, Corporate Training Partnerships Ltd.

Vive la difference
Harry Katz, Norwest Consultants

The need to nurture
Seonaid Mackenzie, Sturgeon Ventures LLP

Beyond diversity
Dr Susan Sayce, Dr Yasmin Sekhon and Dr Julie Robson
Centre for the Study of Organisational Relationships

We need more women in financial services.  Or do we?
Sam Rees-Adams, Director of Education, Financial Services Skills Council

 


Soft skills get hard results!

Don’t be fooled - the ‘softer skills’ are the things that often get the hard results! Women are perceived to have the advantage over men in this area, yet hold back from using them to the full due to lack of self confidence-and ‘fear of failure’.

Amana Walker, Director, WalkAhead Ltd

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Women must value themselves for who they really are

"So, what is it about your Canadian colleague that you want to emulate?"  I asked the group of twenty-something broking professionals I was training.  "Let's be precise.  What exactly are the qualities he has that make him so successful?”  "High-energy", "unremitting drive", "persistence," "focused", "targeted" and "always gets an outcome" were the responses.  Are these the qualities that women in general aspire to?  I think not.

Do the problems concerning women in the financial services sector concern their lack of ability or knowledge, their lack of intelligence or gravitas, or just general ineptitude?  No, none of these, for they have more than demonstrated they are equal to the task. Fundamentally, there are two stereotypical issues at hand.  One is the unwillingness of the male to accept the female in senior positions.  And, secondly, the woman's mistaken belief that she should follow the male model in order to advance.  However, the qualities needed for success in our industry, beyond those identified above, are trust, respect and belief. These are the essential qualities to accept anyone working in finance or insurance.                                        

And, these are the very qualities that most women aspire to. However, there are only two routes to achieve these - gravitas and likeability.  Women naturally lean to the second, so they always perceived they have to work twice as hard as men to gain gravitas.  Men naturally are more hard-driving and earn their gravitas "stripes" first and build their likeability based on need.

So what are the qualities that women have, in addition to likeability, that will help them gain acceptance? Women have intuition and the ability to change thinking quickly.  They think on their feet, are less hidebound, and don't have the same "pride" in their original stance.  They are more inclined to do what it takes, than to be right.  They are not driven by ego, which makes them more personable and empathetic.

Before trust, respect and belief, there has to be likeability and women score well here.  Unfortunately, men don't really rate this very highly in the business context, so women, in trying to gain gravitas first, scare men off because they don't seem friendly.  It's a Catch 22 position.  Women are not "B***sh***ers".  They never say they can do something unless they really believe they can - it goes against their own moral code.

To break the glass ceiling, women perceive they have to assume the male role, rather like Maggie Thatcher in politics 25 years ago battling against cultural stereotypes. Women like her become pioneers and open the way for others to follow who are more true to the female self.   Unfortunately, it seems that the financial services sector is treading the very same path as other industries before it will move on to an acceptance of women for how they really are.  Until or whenever there are sufficient female role models in an industry that women want to emulate, an industry will never change its culture.  Is the financial services sector just repeating another industry's history?  It seems so.  Shame on it!

Dr Deborah Swallow, Management Development Director, Corporate Training Partnerships Ltd.

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Vive la difference

The role of women.  This seems to be a continual bleat – in all walks of life. It may not be politically correct, but why can’t the undeniable (and thankfully attractive) truth be stated. Men and women are different.  My niece had a very senior job with an investment bank. They treated her exceptionally well during and after her pregnancy. She tried desperately to fit in a career with caring for twins, but in the end maternal instincts won the day.  There’s no shame in that. From an employer’s point of view in lesser companies – who want’s to be lumbered with all the employee legislation – maternity leave etc? It is just not affordable for most businesses.  Remember that intelligent and able women in the main marry intelligent and able men – a fact of life. When these women get older they often don’t feel the need to go back to work as their husband’s have progressed up the career ladder and they can feel just as fulfilled in other pursuits.  Please – bra burning went out of fashion in the 70s.

Harry Katz, Norwest Consultants

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The need to nurture

I believe the women who are successful in financial services are the ones, who often start from the bottom, i.e., stock broker sales assistants, secretaries even, and see how the men in the industry do not have attention to detail, and whose egos often get in the way of personal development. Examples like Katherine Garrett-Cox, following a history degree (I believe) started as a secretary/assistant to the Pension US Fund Manager at Fidelity, and strove to learn on the job, and was opportunistic in job moves and rose to a great height. I was a broker to those US fund managers, and watched Katherine rise through the ranks, at the start by simply being opportunistic, and using her job moves wisely, and educating herself to become a guru in the investment world. Women I believe use the education on the job, more efficiently and more wisely than their male counterparts, however, I think firms should be more aware, that many women are very bright and need to be nurtured and encouraged through this process; and management teams (often men) need to encourage more women into senior level positions, who will then nurture these women through the process.  I have proven in my own working life how a woman has to be creative with the tools they possess. I was a US stockbroker, then ran a family office, and in the last 4 years have run a compliance consultancy with a difference, offering an incubator for start up financial services firms, I have not been approached by one female start up, which is disappointing, as we nurture start ups through their paces, and teach them from our own experiences, as well as keeping them compliant. The UK is seen as a centre for excellence in Financial Services, and we should educate more women into being entrepreneurs in this exciting industry.

Seonaid Mackenzie, Sturgeon Ventures LLP

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Beyond diversity

What is the real reason why women are not gaining higher profile roles in the financial services industry?  Is it truly discrimination or is it more to do with self segregation and self categorisation?  If this is the case can diversity policies really combat this, what is the true worth of policies, can they overcome internalised feelings that are a result of the internal and external culture of the organisation? What is the impact to both genders when women manage their careers in a ‘self limiting’ manner and more importantly how does it affect organisational performance?

Is the problem diversity programmes?

There has been on-going media and industry interest in diversity. But what does diversity really mean? How can one get to the grass roots of diversity to ensure it is practised above and beyond minimal requirements? Diversity means many things to many people, ranging from ensuring gender equality to an equal representation of ethnicity in the work place. It could be argued that diversity as a concept has a major role of its own. While rooted in the history of older concepts of equal opportunity and positive action, in today’s environment it needs to go beyond the parameters of these traditional concepts.

Diversity programmes and policies have often been welcomed by management because they are less confrontational than previous proactive equality programmes which had clear targets and timetables.  However, does this softer approach change embedded assumptions that a workforce brings to the workplace? Joan Acker‘s American and Swedish research (2006) claims that current diversity programmes fail to unsettle the intimate connectedness of gender assumptions. She argues that the persistence of these assumptions legitimise existing privilege, which becomes entwined in organisational actions and hierarchies.

These questions suggest that there is a need for research in order to provide data that will permit us to engage in this very real and contemporary debate.  Perhaps a way forward in this debate is to go beyond the basic parameters of diversity moving away from mere compliance and linking it to actual organisational performance. Do we need a new framework that goes beyond diversity to help categorise gender representation, integration and development within financial service organisations?

Developing a New Framework

We are interested in going beyond the surface to explore the role of women in the financial services industry and are looking for like-minded partners to help. If you find yourselves questioning the impact that diversity programmes have on your organisational performance and would be interested in collaborating with us to investigate how better to promote the greater representation, integration and development of women in the financial services then please contact us at the Centre for the Study of Organisational Relationships at Bournemouth University.

Dr Susan Sayce, Dr Yasmin Sekhon and Dr Julie Robson
Centre for the Study of Organisational Relationships

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We need more women in financial services.  Or do we?

Is it true that women are deterred from a career in financial services?  Overall figures suggest that there are more women working in financial services than men and there is certainly less of an imbalance than is the case for other industries.  But is it quite that simple?  Perhaps we should be asking whether the picture is quite as balanced at all levels of the industry, or indeed across all sub-sectors. There I think we would see a very different picture.

So does the financial services industry need more women? Does it need more women in senior roles?  I’ll be very honest here and say that I don’t believe it needs more women at any level or in any role just for the sake of being able to say it has more women.  If you’ve just gasped in outrage, ask yourself why.  Do you think a woman wants to think she’s got the job because she’s a woman or because she’s the best candidate for the job?  I can only speak for myself but I’d plump for the latter every time.  Getting more women in by any means possible, how insulting is that?  Give me a job on merit and for no other reason, thank you very much.

I often attend meetings where I am the only woman in the room.  An interesting reaction is to my name, which yes can cause confusion among those who haven’t met me (and among some who have, but that’s another story).  Many an introduction has begun with ‘I’m sorry, I was expecting you to be a man.’  Is that all about being called Sam or should we read more sinister meanings into it?  Do people expect me to be a man because I’m involved in financial services?  Is it because I’m a director? Possibly.

There have been occasions in my career where I have been metaphorically patted on the head and patronised by older, more senior male counterparts at meetings.  Annoying, yes, but has it hindered my ability to progress? Absolutely not. I believe it says far more about the other person than it does about me and I simply ignore it.  Never once has it stopped me voicing an opinion or disagreeing with someone.  It’s also true that I’ve experienced this as much in other industries as I have within financial services.  So financial services can’t, in my opinion, be seen to be more guilty than any other sector in this respect.

So why does it happen?  My perception is that women are not represented in all roles across the industry equally and this becomes more noticeable as you move up the ladder.  Is this because they aren’t given the opportunity to take on those roles, consciously or otherwise?  Or, it is because they don’t have the right skills?  Or, are workplaces not as flexible as they might be?

Whatever the reasons, does it actually matter?  Well yes I think it does.  Not because I think we should have more women in financial services for the sake of it, but because I think it’s important that we recruit from the widest possible pool of applicants.  The UK is one of the world’s leading financial centres and if we want to keep it that way, we must ensure we have the best people working in the industry.  That means making sure that women and men want to come into the industry and very importantly, stay within it.  The more people we attract, the more choice we have.  The more choice we have, the better the chances of finding the perfect person for the job.  If your recruitment pool is unrepresentative, you’re missing out on huge potential.

Looking at my own career, did I think about joining the financial services industry?  Not for a minute.  Was it because it had a traditional masculine image?  No, I can honestly say that it wasn’t.  In fact I didn’t really give that a thought.  It didn’t appeal to me because I perceived it as offering limited opportunities and being, quite frankly, dull.  Did I have the faintest idea what working in financial services was really like?  Well, no, I didn’t and therein lies the problem.

I think the most important thing we can do is raise awareness of what the industry is really like and the vast range of opportunities that exist within it.  If there is a perception of men in grey suits then we need to show that there are women out there too (in grey suits or otherwise).  Is having a man in a grey suit telling people it’s not all about men in grey suits the best way to do that?  Probably not.  A picture paints a thousand words and all that so showing the women that work within the industry is far more effective than talking about them. 

Financial services is really quite an exciting place, despite what I may have thought at university.  I’ll get out there and encourage people to join the industry and stay in it, thus doing my bit for that recruitment pool.  So, what are you going to do?

Sam Rees-Adams, Director of Education, Financial Services Skills Council

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The views expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect those of the FSSC. The FSSC does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any of the information and will accept no liability for any loss or damage incurred through the use of, or reliance upon, information contained


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