Business Irish

Sunday 9 December 2018

How to end stark gender gap at top of financial services

Targets and quotas provide a clear path for greater gender parity at senior management levels, writes Carol Andrews

Carol Andrews, second from right, with Davy CEO Brian McKiernan, FBD CEO Fiona Muldoon, AIB CEO Bernard Byrne and Meloisa O’Caoimh, managing director, Northern Trust, at last week’s launch of ‘Making The Change Count’, A Study of Women in Financial Services in Ireland by the 30% Club
Carol Andrews, second from right, with Davy CEO Brian McKiernan, FBD CEO Fiona Muldoon, AIB CEO Bernard Byrne and Meloisa O’Caoimh, managing director, Northern Trust, at last week’s launch of ‘Making The Change Count’, A Study of Women in Financial Services in Ireland by the 30% Club

Carol Andrews

Possibly the most concerning thing about new research into gender balance in the Financial Services sector in Ireland published by the 30% Club is the stark gap in the numbers of men and women at the upper echelons of the financial services sector.

The survey reported a 50/50 split between men and women at entry level and on the lower rungs of the career ladder. As we move up the scale, a stark and significant gap widens, culminating in the headline figure of 87pc men and 13pc women at chief executive level.

The 30% Club movement arose from a desire to address the gender issue at board level and the organisation has advocated for change in this regard for the past couple of years.

But this research shows that there is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed at all levels in financial services organisations.

By no means will any of this come as a shock to women, or indeed to anyone who pays attention to these things. We all encounter this imbalance in our dealings with companies on a daily basis. But what it shows is that despite fairly significant focus on gender and diversity issues and a willingness to change, the pace of that change is extremely slow, glacial even.

Within the research, there are a number of interesting points to be made about both the alignment and the divergence of how men and women view their careers.

In many ways, the genders have a lot in common. Both men and women say that taking on a new role, or the expansion of their existing role, is the thing which impacts most positively on advancement within organisations.

About half of all employees say they have a long term career plan. Men and women are at one on a number of their perceived barriers to progression; for example, lack of opportunity was cited as the biggest barrier by both genders at 25pc, and this was twice as significant as the next biggest barrier which was confidence in their own ability.

However, there was a gap between men and women in the area of confidence, with 13pc of women citing it as a barrier compared to 7pc of men. Interestingly, men and women agreed on the extent to which personal choice was a barrier to their progression, at 10pc each.

However, when men were asked what they thought were the biggest barriers to female progression, they put personal choice at 20pc -perhaps a significant statement in terms of how women are perceived by men in the workplace.

When it comes to flexibility, men and women also agree that starting and finishing times, and other arrangement like the ability to work from home, are the things they value most. Despite this, the organisations told us that a part-time schedule is the most commonly offered flexibility.

A high level of employees, 43pc, believe that availing of flexible working arrangements would lead to their commitment to the organisation being questioned and 42pc believe that it would negatively impact on their career.

Clearly, organisations can take simple steps to address these issues. Firstly, by introducing the kind of flexibility that people really want as opposed to the kind that they believe will limit their careers. And secondly, by doing more to reassure employees that availing of flexible working will not damage their careers or bring their commitment into question. When we look at the gender breakdown for people taking up the most commonly offered type of flexibility, which is part-time working, at 3pc males and 31pc females, it is abundantly clear that serious culture change is needed in this regard.

One of the most significant disparities identified in the 30% Club research is in the area of identifying the high potential talent pool.

According to our survey, 93pc of organisations work proactively to identify their talent pool for development and advancement.

One could reasonably assume that, since the gender balance at entry level is more or less 50/50 male and female, then the same would apply to the talent pool. But that is patently not the case. In fact, it is almost two-thirds male and one-third female.

The only reasonable explanation for this is that the talent pool is identified at a relatively senior level, when the disparity between men and women has already taken hold.

It is clear that career discussions and mentoring need to take place at less senior levels, so that females benefit from coaching and encouragement at an early point in their careers.

While people are naturally sensitive to targets and quotas, they provide a clear path for greater gender parity at the senior levels. We believe they should be implemented at all management levels to ensure the pipeline is more balanced all the way up to the most senior executive level.

Carol Andrews, managing director of BNY Mellon, is Ireland country lead for the 30% Club

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