A family and a front office career are not mutually exclusive

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Why are there so few women in senior front office positions? The theory is that women have equal opportunities to progress until they decide to start a family, at which point they need to either have a very supportive spouse or make some tough choices about whether it’s really possible to commit to such a demanding job.

Wading into the debate is leader of right-wing political party UKIP, and former broker, Nigel Farage, who said that any gender imbalance in the City was as a result of female employees making “different choices” for “biological reasons” – namely, starting a family. Women managing clients are “worth less” because of the time out they take from the industry, he says.

"I don't believe that in the big banks and brokerage houses and Lloyds of London and everyone else in the City, I do not believe there is any discrimination against women at all,” he said. “I think that young, able women who are prepared to sacrifice the family life and stick with their careers do as well, if not better, than men."

Needless to say, Farage’s comments have been panned as being overly-simplistic and insulting to working mothers. It does, however, raise the question of what exactly has to be done in order to combine raising a family and pursuing a successful career in a revenue-generating finance role.

Louisa Symington-Mills is now chief operating officer at LPEQ and previously worked at both Jefferies and Royal Bank of Scotland in London. She’s also founder of Citymothers, a network for women juggling a family and a career in the City of London with over 2,000 members.

“It’s absolutely possible for women to maintain a front office career and a family, but possible doesn't mean easy,” she says. “Doing so requires a serious effort from all parties concerned - the mother, father, children, child-carers, not-to-mention the mother's line manager and colleagues. In fact, getting the right support in the office can often make more of a difference than having a strong support network at home.”

Farage is the latest in a line of commentators suggesting that it’s near impossible to for women to focus on raising children and a career in finance. Last year, hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones said that having babies was a “killer” to female ambitions and that “as soon as that baby's lips touch that girl's bosom, forget it”. He later clarified that he was merely referring to global macro trading roles, where you have to be on call 24-hours a day.

Investment banks are increasingly presenting themselves as cosy family-friendly employers. At an event targeted at female graduates, employees of JPMorgan espoused how flexible the bank was in allowing them to base their work around childcare demands. Citi has long had a Maternity Matters programme which coaches women back to work and Goldman Sachs’ Returnship Program provides re-training for former employees who have taken years out, often to raise children.

Nonetheless, despite a few high profile examples like Helen Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, who has nine children, and long-time City superwoman and mother of six, Nicola Horlick, senior women in finance often bemoan having sacrificed having a family for their career.

“It’s still incredibly difficult to combine a family with a senior career in the City, especially if you’re the main bread-winner. I don’t have children, and many of my female managing director colleagues decided not to have a family,” Herta von Stiegal, chief executive of Ariya Capital and former MD at Citi, J.P Morgan and AIG Financial Products told us previously. “There’s something of a sub-conscious prejudice in the industry that once you take time out, you lose your edge.”

The practicalities of a senior banking career also don’t sit well with the demands of raising children. Randall Dillard, CIO of hedge fund Liongate and former head of investment banking at Nomura, said he felt guilty even going to the cinema when he was working in the senior ranks. This can mean having a plethora of childcare arrangements in order to deal with the demands of the job, as Louise Brett, head of FSI Analytics at Deloitte, told us previously.

This can make it easier for firms to edge women out of front office roles. “Some firms are unlikely to actively encourage flexible working, and the onus therefore falls very much on the employee to push a request through and make sure it works in practice,” says Symington-Mills. “In general, flexible working arrangements are still too rarely seen in front office roles - this could be for straightforward practical reasons, such as the barriers to working at home in terms of remote access technology if you are a trader or fund manager - and so acceptance is also not as widespread as in other professions.”

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