The sky is the limit for gender diversity in financial services

Role models are great, but without supportive policies, female talent could still leave

Attracting and retaining the best talent is increasingly difficult for businesses as the labour market continues to grow in competitiveness. A firm’s culture, in particular the approach to diversity and inclusion, can be critical to its success and is vital for developing a positive first impression for candidates.

Firms that put diversity and inclusion – including gender diversity – at the core of their agenda and take clear action to address it are more likely to attract and retain talent that might otherwise have been overlooked.

The financial sector has historically been male-dominated. But now, as priorities shift and firms face pressures to evolve and address diversity issues, this is starting to change.

Growing gender diversity

Progress towards gender equality and diversity is already being made across a range of businesses – at haysmacintyre, for example, we have currently reached an industry-leading 29% female-partnership, while 46% of our entire firm are female. Our Financial Services sector is led by a team of women, setting us apart from our peers. We have found that diversity of any kind is beneficial to all employees – after all, diversity of people brings with it diversity of opinion and thus a more representative approach.

Female role models are proof to the next generation of talented women that progression is possible, even in traditionally male-dominated industries. Research has shown that visibility of role models can have a positive effect on career commitment and satisfaction, showing people that if they can “see it”, they can indeed “be it”.

However, just having a team of visible women right at the top is not enough and firms without specific schemes and policies in place to support women run the risk of losing the best talent as women may look to start a family. Parental leave policies are just the beginning, and viable and sustainable policies are needed for women to feel comfortable in their career progression.

The importance of inclusion support

The increase in flexible working patterns brought about by the pandemic was a double-edged sword for some, with remote working exacerbating many existing issues, as women often took on greater mental and childcare loads than their male counterparts. This inequality in the home can, in itself, hinder women’s career progression, particularly as demands grow, leading many women to work beneath their potential.

However, the overhaul in working practices does come with positives, namely that flexible working models no longer have the same stigma, and that those working from home are no longer incorrectly viewed as being less committed to their careers.

The provision of support networks is key if we are to create an environment where employees of all genders and all backgrounds want to strive to the top. At haysmacintyre, we have found that mentoring schemes have been successful in retaining and nurturing our best talent and empowering them to progress within the firm.

In practice, our rising stars are often mentored by multiple coaches from supervisor level upwards, who then pass on their knowledge by coaching their juniors, but it has been fundamental to have one key mentor as a point of contact to encourage and direct individuals’ careers. This relationship can have a particularly worthwhile impact on women’s progression, particularly when introduced early on in their careers.

Imposter syndrome in the workplace has been widely recognised to disproportionately affect women, which reinforces the importance of having experienced sponsors who can advocate for, and guide, women looking to take charge of their careers.

Research shows that women are more than twice as likely as men to advocate other women, but despite this, men are 25% more likely than women to have a sponsor and senior men 50% more likely to. It is vital we address this unacceptable imbalance, if we are to further engage and encourage women within the workplace.

A supportive workplace culture is central to nurturing female talent in the financial sector. There are many things firms can learn from looking at leading organisations’ initiatives – from centring inclusion in their cultural change programmes, to involving influential frontline leaders in the change, both of which are key for developing business messaging.

Unacceptable behaviours must be eliminated for firms that want a reputation for a strong and diverse workforce. The end goal of any firm’s diversity strategy should be working towards an all-encompassing view of inclusion throughout the business, to mitigate the risk of any inadvertent bias. Conscious and authentic efforts to change outdated ways of working and thinking in the business setting, and empowering employees to feel supported and heard, will build a better, more skilled and sustainable organisation for all.

The first steps are certainly being taken to move workplace gender diversity in the right direction, but the work mustn’t stop here – there is still a long way to go.

Melanie Pittas is Partner and Co-head of Financial Services at top 25 accountancy firm haysmacintyre.

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