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The person every bank is desperate to hire, but can't

Banks have got a problem hiring and retaining women. They also have a problem hiring and retaining technologists.  Put these two things together and you get every bank's living nightmare: hiring enough women for their technology functions.

"Banks technology functions are mostly men," agrees Oliver Bussman, former group CIO at UBS. "It's better in fintech, but it's still very low. The size of the female talent pool is just very limited." How limited? At Goldman Sachs, senior technologists say as little as 10% of tech CVs have historically come from women applicants.

Why don't women want banks' tech jobs? Industry professionals blame universities and society at large: in the US, around 18% of computer science graduates are women; in the UK it's closer to 16%.  An anonymous employee at Google has suggested that women are simply less innately interested in technology than men, but one leading banking technologist argues there are more obvious reasons for women's reticence: "If you're a 13 year old boy, without great social skills, hacking (in a good way) is a thing. This isn't generally true for girls. And because coding isn't taught *at all* in schools, there's no gateway into coding for women. That's sad - there are women out there who could have been great coders, but they just didn't get into it when they were 12."

Banks aren't alone in suffering from the dearth of email technologists - Google and Facebook are suffering too. But banks suffer more because they're not computer science students' first choice as employers.  The population of female technologists that actively wants to work in banks is very tiny.

Some areas of banks' technology functions suffer especially from the female drought. Adam Vipond, head of fintech at recruitment firm Caspian One, says women are more populous in business analysis (BA) than pure engineering (coding) roles. Other recruiters and banks' own tech staff agree: "You'll find the women in the BA roles," says one director at Credit Suisse. "I'm not sure whether the women choose to go into BA or whether they somehow get pushed there," says another recruiter, speaking off the record.

The good news, therefore, is that if you're a capable female coder, banks will be desperate to hire you. And after that they will be desperate again to retain you.

Bussman says most banks have targets to increase the proportion of women in their technology functions to between 20% and 30% of the total. Many have programmes to bring the female technologists through the door. For example, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan are all sponsors of Girls Who Code.

Once they've got you, banks won't want you to leave. When Vanessa Menendez-Covelo, a former EMEA dev lead in risk technology at J.P. Morgan started to tire of her job at the bank (she's now a yoga teacher), she says JPM did everything it could to accommodate her, including giving her a full year's sabbatical - but she left anyway. Other banks have programmes to bring their female technologists back again: Morgan Stanley's return to work programme covers female technologists (as well as other functions).

Does this amount to positive discrimination? Senior (male) technologists suggest women are sometimes promoted to make the numbers look better, but that no one dares says it out loud. "I would never propose someone just because they're a woman," says Vipond, before promptly adding that he would also, "never put together an all male short list." At one large U.S. bank, a recruiter says it was common until recently for managers to receive a proportion of their bonuses based upon the diversity of their teams. Ethnic diversity isn't the issue in technology, say banks' technologists - there are plenty of non-Caucasians, it's just women who are strangely absent.

There are certainly role models for women at the top of the industry. At Goldman Sachs, the EMEA technology function is run by Joanne Hannaford, who joined the bank in 1997 and made partner in 2013, and then Marie Louise Kirk was promoted to global co-head of engineering in the investment bank in April.  At Deutsche Bank, the global COO is Kim Hammonds, who joined in 2013 after being chief information officer at Boeing. Also at Goldman, the tech-related global fixed income strats (quant) function is run by Thalia Chryssikou in London.  More broadly, quants point to female role models like the infamous Nicole El Karoui in France, or to Katia Babbar at Lloyds.

Overall, though, insiders say most technologists and most quants at most banks are men. For banks, this is a problem. If you're a woman with a degree in computer science from a top university and you want to work in finance, banks would love to hear from you. It will be hard not to get an offer; in fact, you might be deluged with them.


Photo credit: Circuit Bending Orchestra: Lara Grant at Diana Eng's Fairytale Fashion Show, Eyebeam NYC / 20100224.7D.03621.P1.L1.SQ.BW / SML by See-ming Lee is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Pe
    9 August 2017

    It is likely much more fundamental than described. I have a teenage daughter. She is intelligent and well aware that associating with an outcast 14 year old coder is a social and practical dead end. What are they going to talk about, what are they going to share...nothing. Knowing this in advance, the very last thing she would do is also become a software developer. Nor is she ever going to want to date a software developer, let alone marry one 15 years from now. If she doesn't want to hang around with one now, she SURELY would not want a job associating with their ilk later. Is there a problem with increasing the number of female bank software coders? No. They have reached the highest percentage they will ever reach.

  • Th
    8 August 2017

    I can only really talk about quantitative finance, the only kind of finance that I understand to some extent. And then I think one would need to study the demographics more carefully - what kind of person does it appeal to? I think this goes far beyond gender. I was the only person at my school to go and study pure maths at university. And I was fanatical about it too. Just as other people are fanatical about music or art or whatever. It's just some subjects are less popular than others. Is there a correlation with gender? I think one needs to look at the data. I am friends with many women who are maths fanatics, but purely speculatively I know more men who are into maths....

  • JS
    7 August 2017

    In my area we would have more female individual contributors if we got the CVs through for roles but we don't. I've interviewed 100s of people for roles but not a single female (not including grad scheme interviews). Can't help if we have no candidates in the pipeline. Grad schemes usually have a decent amount of girls in comparison to most Computer Science courses, but in my class at Goldman most of them left quite quickly. Frankly, we can't compensate for career choices made we have no control over. You could ask the exact opposite question about banks HR teams which are almost exclusively female. This is not to say there are no females in Banking Tech - to the contrary, but they are very much a minority and as a numbers game will proportionally occupy fewer management positions.

  • Jo
    7 August 2017

    "I wanted those letters after my name so badly," she said. "If it took me 80 years, it was going to say, 'Sara Grillo, CFA' on my tombstone."

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