Sex and the City – a new report

Odgers Berndtson, the executive recruitment company, today publishes the results of a survey of more than 100 senior women working in financial services in the City of London.

The aim of the research was to analyse how successful women managed their careers and how financial institutions could address gender imbalances that remain significantly higher than in other sectors.

The findings echo those of the Treasury Select Committee report titled Women in the City, published last summer. That report found a 55 per cent earnings gap between men and women in financial services, widening to 80 per cent when comparing bonuses and performance-related payments. Just 1-2 per cent of executive committee members, the report said, were female.

Respondents to the Odgers Berndtson research were drawn from 54 companies with a combined turnover of £500bn ($814bn). As in earlier surveys, a number of successful women highlighted the importance of, among others:

  • strong sponsors;
  • flexible working practices to allow women to juggle professional and personal lives;
  • specific support for women returning to work after maternity leave;
  • board diversity;
  • diversity reporting from search companies; and
  • discussing in annual reports the percentage of women in senior positions.

But there is an extra dimension particular to the sector, as illustrated by these two anonymous comments by respondents:

“As a woman within financial services, you need to accept that in order to get ahead, you’ll have to work harder than your male counterparts. There are a lot of mediocre men within financial services who got where they are through contacts. It’s not the same situation for women.”

“Financial services is more testosterone driven than other sectors, making it more difficult for women. Some women understand that culture and can operate successfully within it – however, most women can’t.”

Anne Murphy, lead consultant for risk in the financial services practice at Odgers Berndtson and co-author of the report, says several subsectors within financial services are particularly tough for women.

“Areas such as corporate finance and investment banking are very male dominated,” she says. “While firms may report a 50:50 male/female graduate intake, that often masks specific areas where there have been no women recruited at all – fixed income trading, for example.”

The old boys’ network is not dead, adds Ms Murphy. “Women who were not born and educated in the UK, typically from the US, were surprised to see the British class system still in force. There are still some advisory houses that recruit exclusively from public schools, or from a network of friends who shoot, hunt and fish with them,” she says.

She says many women return to work after maternity leave to find they have been sidelined and given “non-jobs” or “special projects” where there is no career progression because employers assume they will be soft-pedalling their careers.

“Lack of communication is a major issue,” she says. “Leaders were uncomfortable about talking to women who returned from maternity leave and simply assumed that they didn’t want to come back full throttle, when often the reverse was true.”

Greater transparency, improved communication, a commitment to building an inclusive culture and more robust recruitment processes are all highlighted in the report as important steps to improving the gender balance in financial services firms.

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