What You Can Do to Retain More Women in Financial Services

With #MeToo and #TimesUp, we’ve made big strides in highlighting and challenging the biases and discrimination women face in all facets of business — but we still have a long way to go. In investment banking, for instance, women account for less than 17 percent of senior leaders; in private equity, 9 percent of senior executives and 18 percent of total employees; and at hedge funds and private debt firms, 11 percent of leadership roles. As Cate Luzio notes in her opinion piece “Why women keep leaving banking” for American Banker, “Women leave for many reasons, but young women look up and either see too few people like them in senior roles or, worse, too few opportunities. In my view, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

To further illustrate the gaps, take a look at the findings from a CNBC and LinkedIn survey about working in the financial services industry:

  • Nearly two-thirds of women polled say females are less likely than males to reach leadership roles.
  • Women (8 percent) are about four times as likely as men (2 percent) to believe women are excluded from networking and social opportunities, such as after-work drinks or golf outings.
  • Only 40 percent of women and 75 percent of men agree that the genders working at the same level are paid equally at their companies.
  • Nineteen percent of women and 12 percent of men say the biggest obstacle is a lack of female leadership.
  • Fourteen percent of women say their biggest obstacle is a lack of mentorship or sponsorship.

So, how can companies retain more women in financial services? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Rebrand the financial services industry to make it clearer that women can succeed in this field

As Céline Dufétel, CFO at T. Rowe Price, notes,  “Very few women seek those careers out of school. I remember when I was interviewing for an internship way back when, the banks felt intimidating to me.” Companies needs to make it clear that women can thrive in this industry, that they’re taking this issue seriously, and that they’re actually doing something about fixing gender inequality. As Margo Cook from Nuveen Advisory Services states, “Making these issues a standard, let alone accepted, topic for all leaders to talk about — male or female — is what will break down the walls.”

2. Provide opportunities for professional growth and career development through mentorship and sponsorship

We need more and better access to sponsors; firms can accomplish this by expanding offerings for formal sponsorship programs. According to a McKinsey & Company survey, less than half of financial services companies have such programs, and only 58 percent have formal mentorship programs. McKinsey notes that while female role models are crucial, both men and women should serve as sponsors and mentors to ensure that women build the diverse networks they need throughout their careers.

Beyond formal programs, McKinsey also suggests that companies should monitor the quality of and access to sponsorship for both junior and senior-level women. “For example, a best practice is to send out an annual sponsorship survey to identify sponsors and candidates for sponsorship so that gaps can be identified and addressed early.”

3. Create flexibility, work-life balance, and job stability

While flexibility programs are common across the financial industry (about 90 percent of financial services companies offer extended maternity and/or paternity leave, and 92 percent offer flexible work policies), many women fear that using these flexibility programs might hinder their advancement and job stability. Having experienced just how detrimental lack of flexibility can be for career growth, we think the call-to-action is clear: Companies need to show their acceptance and usage of flexible working policies in order to keep more women in the field.

4. Offer a re-entry path

A survey of MBA alumni by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that 41 percent of women and only 12 percent of men report leaving the workforce at some time to take care of children. The financial industry must create a solid path for employees to leave and re-enter the workplace more easily. They can do this through sponsoring returnship programs, skills-update training, or creating more long-term, flex-work solutions.

5. Get rid of bias in reviews and promotions

While 79 percent of financial services companies offer unconscious-bias training, only 18 percent require it. A commitment to addressing unconscious bias needs to come from leadership. And this training needs to not only cover recognizing bias, but also how to address bias head-on in hiring, performance, and promotion discussions.

6. Create a culture that prioritizes — and values — diversity and inclusion

Companies need to do more than talk about diversity and equality; they need to take visible steps to make it happen. While 95 percent of financial services companies track gender representation across all levels, far fewer companies have clearly defined goals for this data. Financial services companies need to set targets for female representation and promotion rates, and keep leaders accountable.

When Katie Burke and Bridget Grimes co-founded Equita Financial Network, they wanted to fix the biases and systemic issues that had permeated their world for far too long. Today, Katie and Bridget are changing the financial services industry by creating an empowering network for female planners that provides them with the support and resources needed to run their businesses effectively. We know that women make exceptional financial advisors; now it’s time to show them how much we value their contributions.

Are you interested in joining Equita Financial Network? Contact us today

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