Women in Banking – A very rare breed

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I’ve recently been talking with some banking and finance firms about gender equality. In preparation I was looking out some of the information on how women get on in the world of finance and banking. My discussions with the female staff at two major banks reveal that not a massive amount has changed since this Institute of Leadership and Management report was written. If you work in banking, I’d love to know your views. I’ve reproduced the executive summary below:

The Institute of Leadership & Management is committed to organisational excellence and encouraging leadership talent, regardless of gender. In 2011, ILM carried out research into male and female managers’ career plans and ambitions (Ambition and Gender at Work) across all industries. This revealed some striking differences in male and female expectations, and emphasised how much change is still needed in many organisations if they are to maximise the potential of women in their workforce.

This research, sponsored by RBS, builds on these findings, to investigate why so few women are promoted to senior management positions in banking, identify the challenges they face getting to the top, and propose some solutions. We conducted qualitative and quantitative surveys investigating gender diversity at senior levels of the banking industry. Over
800 individuals, 405 women and 408 men working in banking, completed the online survey into their progression in the industry. We also carried out in-depth interviews with 16 senior women working in UK banks about their own career experiences. A number of quotes from the in-depth interviews are included throughout this report.

Promoting more women into senior positions is not just about equity and fairness, but also about economics (see the business case for gender equality) There is a real opportunity for banks to drive long-term organisational performance by increasing both the attraction and retention of women and providing more opportunities to progress into senior roles.

Executive summary
While women wield substantial purchasing power and make up half (50%) of the UK workforce, just 32% of managers and 28% of senior executives in the UK are female.

Statistics show that banking is an even more male dominated business. The number of female managers in the financial sector is similar to the national average (34%), but just 11% of corporate managers and senior executives in banking are women.

The research highlights the scale of the challenge facing UK banks looking to achieve gender diversity at senior levels. Fewer than one in 10 women (9%) in our survey sample occupied senior and executive roles, compared to 21% of men. This report investigates why there are so few senior women in the top levels of banking organisations and proposes solutions to
address these issues.

Barriers to progression
The surveys provide clear evidence of a range of barriers that are impeding women’s career progress in banking. Half of the women we surveyed (48%) said that barriers to progression for women existed in their organisation, and 36% of men agreed. These barriers, collectively labelled as the glass ceiling, become more visible as women progress in their careers. A third (31%) of women in junior roles said they thought a glass ceiling existed for women where they worked, rising to 61% of women in middle management roles.

The reverse was true for men; 31% of men at junior level said a glass ceiling existed in their organisation, dropping to 23% of men at middle management level.

Opting out
A range of factors are causing women to either opt out of banking altogether or halt their career progression. One third of women, and a quarter of men, believed that there were fewer women in senior positions because of family or personal commitments.

Management culture
Almost three quarters of women (72%) said the attitudes of senior male managers were a barrier to women progressing into senior roles. Women also saw the current culture in their organisation (61%) as a major issue halting progression to senior management levels.

The women we interviewed believe that men tend to recruit and promote in their own image and through male-dominated networks, rather than on merit alone. 70% of women we surveyed said the existing greater proportion of men in senior roles halted the career progress of women.

There was little belief in banking as a meritocracy – only 22% of all respondents, both male and female, agreed that ‘people here are promoted based on merit alone’ while almost half (48%) agreed that ‘in my organisation, promotion is determined by who you know’.

Lack of flexible working
Both men and women feel banking is lacking in opportunities to work flexibly and remotely. Three quarters (76%) of women and 66% of men said that ‘opportunities for working flexible hours or working from home would be a benefit for me’. 68% of women felt that positive action to increase availability of flexible working would be the biggest boon to progression for women.

The current presenteeism culture, which rewards attendance over output, presents a major barrier to implementing effective flexible working, say respondents. Many women we interviewed felt unable to take advantage of flexible working because of negative attitudes towards people working remotely. Interviewees indicated that employees not seen ‘at their desk’ were often sidelined or perceived by colleagues as less effective or simply ‘skiving’.

Interviewees wanted to see more job share roles, flexible hours, and the opportunity to work remotely becoming widely available and culturally accepted in banking organisations. While many companies offer these options as part of a flexible working policy, effective communication, implementation and cultural acceptance of these ways of working was still lacking,
according to respondents, due to prevailing attitudes and culture.

Few female role models
Women expressed a need for more female role models at senior level, and 41% of women cited a lack of female role models as a barrier to women’s progression. Some of the women interviewed added that they needed a role model they could identify with, rather than a senior woman who has ‘given up everything’ to get to the top.

Addressing the under-representation of women in senior positions calls for a sizeable shift in organisational culture and attitudes. Sustainable change needs to come from the top in order to take advantage of the highly talented women currently prevented or discouraged from reaching senior levels.

It is equally important that more is done to educate managers at all levels in understanding these issues. To make sustainable changes, all managers need to be more aware of the particular challenges and needs for developing women. They need to be able to put into practice the coaching and support, transparent performance management, and understanding of flexible working practices required.

Clear performance management processes
To sustain any changes in culture, transparent performance management processes are required to encourage promotion on merit. Banking is not currently viewed as a meritocracy where the best rise to the top. Clear criteria for ranking employees on output rather than hours, and performance excellence rather than connections, will benefit the business by rewarding and developing top talent. This is the most significant shift organisations can make towards a talent driven banking economy.

RenewYou was written specifically to address issues of confidence in women. Read more here.


Posted on September 29th, 2015 by

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