Need for gender targets underlined as women lag behind in leadership race
Landmark study tells inside story of inequality, writes Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald
By any measure, 2017 was an annus horribilis for women in the workforce.
There was the BBC gender pay gap row last October which sparked an international furore and led to the resignation, last week, of its former China Editor Carrie Gracie.
The following day, Hollywood was rocked by sexual assault allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.
The scandal involving the all-powerful movie executive unleashed a torrent of similar allegations against some of the most influential men in the entertainment industry.
As the #MeToo movement gathered momentum, attention turned to power and gender disparities in other industries long dominated by men.
The financial services sector has thus far been spared the more lurid sexual assault allegations that engulfed the entertainment sector.
However, new research by the 30% Club on the gender imbalance in the upper echelons of Ireland's financial services sector lays bare the long road we have to travel before we achieve workplace equality.
It also shows common barriers experienced between men and women alike and highlights the simple steps companies can take to make career progression more equitable for all.
It starts out on a fairly equal footing according to 'Making The Change Count,' an in-depth study of women in financial services in Ireland.
When they enter the financial services industry, there is a 50/50 split between men and women.
So far, so gender parity.
But the research commissioned by the Irish arm of the 30% Club, the global organisation that aims to bring the proportion of female directors on Irish boards and at executive management level up to 30pc by 2020, shows a staggering gap at chief executive level.
The research, sponsored by AIB, one of 23 blue chip companies that took part in the independent survey, reported a 50-50 split between male and female employees.
However, those same companies reported an 87pc male versus 13pc female split at chief executive level.
That headline figure, stark as it is, consistent with other studies.
The latest 'Women in Work Index' published by PwC, for example, ranks Ireland 25th out of 33 OECD countries when it comes to the position of women within organisations, where a mere 9pc of women are CEOs.
The real value of the survey is the story it tells of the where, when - and, critically, why - women fall out of the leadership race.
Four levels down from CEO, the split is 46pc/54pc - in favour of women. But as women rise through corporate rank structure, the gap closes.
Three levels down from CEO, the split is 59pc for men and 41pc for women. It narrows to 66pc for men and 34pc for women 2 levels down from CEO. And the chasm is firmly cemented one level down from CEO where men occupy 72pc of those positions versus 28pc for women.
The CEO gender chasm is most pronounced in the insurance (33pc) and funds (13pc) sectors. Overall, the research shows that whereas ratios hit parity at lower levels, at higher levels there is a steady decline, with a 6-7pc point reduction in female representation at each level.
More than nine out of 10 organisations which took part, including AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB - the four largest employers in the banking sector - said they had a 'high-potential' talent pool.
However, gender representation in the talent pool of banks and major players in the funds servicing and insurance sectors such as State Street, BNY Mellon, Irish Life and Aviva, is almost two-thirds male (63pc) versus one-third female (37pc).
This raises stark questions relating to how such pools are formed and how early companies commit to talent development in general and the development of women in particular.
'Making the Change Count' polled 23 organisations employing more than 42,000 people in the financial services industry. It also polled 1,671 individuals working in the sector, 56pc of whom were female.
The survey revealed common barriers experienced by both sexes, demolishing some preconceived myths as well as highlighting new anomalies.
For example, a fifth of employees claimed that sponsorship has had the biggest impact on advancing their careers. Sponsorship is available in 56pc of organisations surveyed, yet only 18pc of employees said that their companies offered it.
It wasn't just sponsorship that exposed a policy/practice divide. Some 96pc of organisations said they had paid paternity leave, yet just 57pc of employees said that it was offered in their company - it doesn't add up.
Then there's the 'why' in 'Making The Change Count' which threw up some interesting alignments and divergences in the financial world.
Both men and women, at some 25pc (combined), cited lack of opportunity as the biggest barrier, dwarfing confidence in their own abilities at 12pc.
There is a considerable gap between men and women in terms of confidence - broken down by gender it is 7pc for men and 16pc for women.
But this is miles away from companies' views of confidence as the most important factor in assisting female employees in advancing their careers, which employers set at an eye-watering 33pc.
The widely-touted confidence gap among women is more pronounced, it seems, in the minds of their predominantly male bosses.
One of the most startling stats was the revelation that one in five men (19pc) believe that 'personal choice' is the biggest barrier to female career progression. Women, however, rated personal choice as a barrier at just 10pc - the same as men - which does not bode well for how some men perceive their female colleagues.
No study of women in the workplace is complete without reference to children. But here, too, 'Making the Change Count' - whose sample boasted an even split of males and females who had children - bucks some common assumptions.
According to the authors, the results "did not show any significant differences that having a family makes on male and female careers".
Parents, male and female, did report that lack of mobility and personal choice were the biggest barriers to career progression in this regard.
Significantly, a high level of employees, some 43pc, believe that availing of flexible working arrangements would lead to their commitment to the organisation being questioned.
A similar amount (42pc) believe that it would negatively impact their careers which is a damning indictment of the industry's culture.
More than eight out of 10 employees say that flexible working arrangements, primarily flexible start and finish times, as well as remote working - are the most important policies and programmes a company should have. But where mums and dads working in financial services diverge, is in their uptake and use of such flexibility. Of those that have children, 78pc of women have taken maternity leave (average 28 weeks) compared to 24pc of men (who take on average three weeks).
When it comes to parental leave, one in three women (34pc) have availed of some sort of parental leave compared to just one in 10 men. Moreover, women also take longer on average for parental leave, some 11 weeks for women compared to four for men.
This is significant given the perceived impact that flexibility - and the fear of having one's commitment placed under question - has on career progression. Critically, almost one in three respondents agreed that one of the reasons for not availing of flexible working arrangements was organisational culture. "It's not the 'done thing' in my organisation" was the most common refrain and one that will be familiar to employees within the financial sector - and beyond.
It's not just finance, of course.
Ninety per cent of surgeons in Ireland are male and 10pc female, despite 20 years of gender parity among medical graduates. And there are similar yawning gaps in many areas, including the legal sector, despite female trainees outnumbering men.
The lack of diversity in Irish companies, public and private, is, simply, inexcusable. This is particularly the case when we consider the formal education gap between the sexes, where 58pc of Irish women have completed third-level education compared with 44pc of men.
Over 50pc of women over the age of 15 are currently in the labour force and women make up 46pc of all those in employment. Despite this, women continue to be more likely to work on a part-time basis: almost 70pc of all part-time workers are women.
'Making the Change Count', benchmarking female representation for financial services in Ireland, shows that while the general population is equally balanced, major differences emerge when men and women seek to progress to more senior levels.
It is important to acknowledge that women and men have much in common when it comes to career barriers. But the survey also confirms what we already know: that childcare and caregiving has a bigger impact on the careers of women than men.
The report makes the case, once again, for gender targets: it's quotas (I favour their introduction, albeit on a sunset basis) that are really divisive.
Gender targets work.
Organisations with them are more confident in their ability to attract, retain and develop female talent. Almost 40pc of the companies surveyed have gender targets at board level, with a near identical proportion (38pc) having targets at employee level. But gender targets are more likely to apply at senior levels (83pc at CEO and CEO-1) than at mid and junior level where we need to retain women in the pipeline.
Multinationals are leading the way, but here too there are challenges as gender targets typically apply at the global and regional level (89pc) with just 58pc applicable at the local level.
It is worrying that more than half (55pc) of organisations surveyed that currently don't have gender targets do not plan to introduce them within their next planning cycle - more than four out of 10 have not even considered them yet.
But all is not lost. By measuring the gender imbalance problem in the Irish financial services sector, we can build on the solutions to address it.
The case for flexible working and the commencement of career progression discussions at all levels - not just the upper echelons - would do much to arresting the diversity gap in Irish business.