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Why life isn’t getting any easier for women in banking

When Barclays revealed its new “purpose and values” in February, outlining exactly how it expected its investment bankers to behave under the new regime, it faced the problem of imparting details of this new era to the hundreds of female employees on maternity leave. The solution was to invite them into its Canary Wharf office and employ a meeting room as a “pop up crèche” for new-borns and infants while it educated their mothers on what they could expect when they returned to work.

Cynics would argue that the last thing new mothers need is to sit through a management consultant-style speech on brands and values (presumably a lot of coffee was provided for the sleep-deprived parents). But it’s also a good example of banks ensuring that women who take time out to have children are still included in significant developments within the organisation.

Examples like this may also explain the dichotomy in women’s attitude to gender discrimination in financial services compared to their perception of it within their current employer.

Female respondents to an eFinancialCareers survey of 5,000 financial services professionals globally believe that it’s still harder for women to make a career in financial services. 88% of women in the US said gender discrimination exists in the financial services industry, compared to 86% in the UK, 64% in Singapore and a relatively respectable 57% in Hong Kong. However, only 46% of female respondents in the US believe gender discrimination exists in their current employer, 37% in the UK, 23% in Hong Kong and 19% in Singapore.

Investment banks certainly aren’t shy about the range of training programmes, returneeships and female-focused mentoring schemes designed to ensure women are equipped with the skills necessary to make it to the senior ranks. However, our survey suggests it’s still a struggle – just 34% of female respondents in the UK believe women are equally represented at the senior level, compared to 40% in the US and 49% and 60% in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively.

The family factor

Clearly, there’s a high dropout rate – 80% of female respondents in both the UK and US think that women are equally represented at a junior level, compared to 90% in Singapore and 76% in Hong Kong. It would be overly simplistic to say that having children is the only factor, however.

“It’s more complex than taking time out to have children. Not all women have children and certainly at Deutsche Bank in the UK the vast majority of those who take maternity leave return to work,” says Guelabatin Sun, global head of diversity and inclusion at Deutsche Bank. “A lot of women play both primary breadwinner and primary caregiver role which create a tension most men do not experience when juggling work and personal responsibilities.”

Nonetheless, our research suggests that flexible working is key to a more gender diverse workforce. It was the most cited reason in every country, ahead of mentoring or sponsorship, cultural change, quotas and bias training. In the UK, 35% of respondents said it was the most important factor in advancing women’s careers in banking, compared to 42% in Singapore, 25% in Hong Kong and 24% in the US. Inevitably, this suggests that childcare is a large concern.

“Women in banking who require flexible working conditions need to feel emotionally empowered to take full advantage of them. This means the buy-in of colleagues and line managers, not raised eyebrows when they leave the office early,” says Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of coaching at My Family Care, which works with banks on methods to manage family with a high-powered career. “Women know the game – they’ll leave early, ring-fence some time to spend with their children and then will be back to work after bedtime. It’s not about a culture of face-time, but getting the work done.”

Deutsche Bank has been commended by gender diversity campaign group Opportunity Now for its Women Global Leaders programme, which identifies ‘high potential’ female directors and aims to equip them with the skills to make it to managing director. 174 women have participated since its launch in 2010 and 30% have made the step up to MD, while 84% now have a role with “broader scope and responsibility”.

Similarly, Citigroup’s ‘maternity transitions’ programme has increased its return-rate to 97% since its inception in 2009. The bank’s research suggested that most women within the organisation have their first child after ten years’ work experience, so clearly it’s a critical point in their career when they should be approaching the senior ranks.

“Having children is a great leveller, and it often changes women’s idea of the sort of organisation they want to work for. Either they move laterally because they see a more family-friendly employer elsewhere in the sector, or they leave banking entirely because they don’t agree with its values and want to be a role model for their children,” says Liston-Smith.

“Continued belief in traditional office-based working practices and ladder career paths, rather than a-typical or zig-zag career paths perpetuate the situation,” adds Sun. “There is still some stigma attached to reduced hours and agile working practices so despite best practice flexible working policies, perception prevents it from being the norm.”

Why the gender gap is here to stay

The gender pay gap also still exists, according to our survey. 88% of women in the US believe they’re paid less than men for an equivalent position, and the largest proportion (38%), believe the gap is 21-30%. In the City, 81% of women said they were paid less, with a gap of 11-20% the most commonly cited. While banks in Asia appear more progressive in employing women, 68% of women in Hong Kong said they were paid less than men, while 57% of female respondents in Hong Kong said they had a smaller salary for doing the same job as their male colleagues. Again, the most common gap cited was 21-30%.

More disturbingly, most think that the gender pay gap is going nowhere. In every region, the largest proportion of female respondents said that the gap will remain the same in the future, with Hong Kong (59%) the least optimistic followed by the US (56%), the UK (52%) and 48% in Singapore.

There’s a similar level of pessimism when it comes to women progressing into the senior ranks. 59% of respondents in both the US and UK believed the number of women making it to senior roles will remain the same in the future, compared to 65% in Hong Kong and 64% in Singapore.

However, Chris Roebuck, former global head of talent management at UBS and visiting professor at Cass Business School, believes it’s just a matter of time: “The people at the top now are still in the mould of the male-dominated pre-financial crisis banking world, but the demographics of those being recruited now are more diverse. In ten years’ time it won’t be an issue.”

Looking at the (anonymous) responses of those involved in banks' recruitment process paints a different picture that the ones they would have you believe, however. Discrimination based on gender is the most common type, they suggested, with nearly 30% claiming to having witnessed or experienced it at their current employer. What’s more, 75% said they had no explicit targets for increasing the number of female recruits.

"Targets are necessary," argues Justine Lutterodt, director of diversity campaign group The Centre for Synchronous Leadership. "The reason for this is that many of the standard recruiters need to cultivate broader networks that include more talented women. Targets help to create this awareness, and encourage recruiters to become more creative in engaging in the process of creating a pipeline."

If banks want to encourage more women to stick with their organisation after having children, they need to offer three things, says Liston-Smith. Firstly, they need to have firm policies and programmes in place to ensure an easy transition back from maternity leave – this sends out a message about the culture of the organisation, she says. Then, they need to provide emotional support; namely, “taking the guilt” out of leaving early occasionally and ensuring their line manager doesn’t hold it against them. Finally, they need to provide the practical elements like emergency childcare to ensure that employees aren’t forced to take time off when best laid plans go awry.


Related articles: 

The Middle East is the worst region for racial and nationality discrimination

Banks in Singapore and Hong Kong lead way in gender diversity but pay problems persist

AUTHORPaul Clarke
  • Ma
    Mark Freed
    21 September 2014

    Can anyone explain if the investment banks are doing so well at gender diversity why when I look at the faces of there employees on LinkedIn 80% of them are men?

  • An
    Andrea Psoras
    19 September 2014

    Fear. Things in the economy have gotten worse as a result of commercial and cultural war happening in and on the US. Men accordingly are circling the wagons and are clinging to themselves and have power over HR, which often are women who either like to 'exercise' authority, but also won't rock the boat. The misogyny factor also is thicker and less dealt with. There probably also is health care fear; older workers would have health care problems and/or men will look out for men somewhat because they have families but not for single women perhaps unless someone is protecting her.

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