Barriers to gender equality in finance start at school

Survey reveals how gender bias in the financial industry starts in schools

It’s 2022, and we should be operating in a time where there is gender equality in terms of opportunity, pay and treatment for both men and women in financial services. But to our disappointment, there remains a problem with gender bias. Our recent white paper – The Gender Gap: Change Starts With Bravery – explores the challenges facing financial services, the desire for change and the actions required to close the gap once and for all.  

Part of the research explores the impact and influence of gender inequality on education from an early age.

We wanted to find out if students were aware of financial services and if it had been a chosen career path for professionals. The results were not a surprise. Secondary school students, female professionals and influential women from the c-suite shared their educational experiences, career advice and ideas for change.

One hundred pupils (51% female/37% male/12% non-binary or other) from Poole High School were surveyed.

Ofsted rates Poole High School ‘2’ (good). Its exam scores are just above the average English school – but slightly lower than other schools in the local area. In many respects, this is about as representative of the English educational experience as you can get.

We wanted to find out what young people in education had to say, their career aspirations, and whether they felt they had fair opportunities.

The students stated that a “banker would be a man in a suit, a hairdresser would be a woman”. Overall, 57% of female students didn’t know enough about financial services to consider it as a career.

Women had not been encouraged to pursue their career aspirations – “I was made to feel that pursuing a career in engineering would be very difficult and unpleasant in a very male world”, said one of the respondents.

The survey results and conversations have highlighted the challenges females encounter regarding gender bias, career advice and inspiration, which led us to three calls to action:

Gender neutrality

We must ensure our language and behaviours demonstrate gender neutrality, understand unconscious biases and eliminate preconceptions regarding traits and behaviours associated with a particular gender. 

We can encourage gender-inclusive language and gender equality and challenge gender stereotyping by using gender-neutral language in job adverts and descriptions. 

Education and career advice

A basic understanding of finance, savings, investments and pensions will give our children the knowledge and financial skills to plan for their future. It might also ignite a passion for finance.

Finance professionals should showcase financial services by educating all schools and career services about what a career in the finance sector could be like while demonstrating the wide variety of jobs that require and benefit from diversity of thought and gender.

Companies, regardless of size, should initiate partnerships with local schools and colleges to assist with workshops and coaching programmes to raise awareness of financial services and offer employability employment advice. This would be invaluable preparation for the abundance of schemes available for school -leavers, graduates, apprentices and interns across the industry.

Role models and mentoring

“We need to go back to role models, not supermodels; supermodels are not what we can aspire to because they are unattainable” Kate Webber (Lead Product Manager – Fund Services – Northern Trust)

None of the 100 students we surveyed could think of a female role model in the finance sector. They added that having someone relatable and successful speak to them about their experiences and career path, particularly at the director and C-suite level, would be beneficial in their understanding of their career options.

The female professionals we interviewed- award-winning women, c-suite executives, entrepreneurs and founders of women support groups – are all inspirational role models paving the way, showing young women that there is a place at the financial services table. 

These female professionals hold positions that are not stereotypically ‘female’ roles on the Board (HR/Finance). They are relatable women with different backgrounds and provide real examples of the different pathways into finance and promotion. Some already provide coaching and mentoring to encourage and inspire women towards executive-level leadership roles. 

Employers should do more to ensure both women and men in senior roles have the time and frameworks available to make mentoring and coaching an even greater focus.

Click here to read our full white paper for more recommendations to close the gender gap.

By Kirstin Brooks, Business Support at Simplify Consulting.

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