News - 08.03.2022

I'll have a coffee please darling

“I’ll have a coffee please.” “Are you here to help set up the booth?” “Who is taking care of your children while you are here?” “There’s no need to get so emotional.” These are but a few of the statements and questions that women in business face on a day-to-day basis. And while every individual’s experience differs and in many cases these questions and statements are born out of ignorance, rather than malicious intent, it points to an overall issue that women face – the subtle diminishment of the role that they play.

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Finance is, without a doubt, not immune to this issue and it occurs across the value chain and throughout organisational hierarchies. A lack of gender diversity remains a key issue for financial services globally, with women representing only 40% of the total workforce. This number drops to 27% when you look only at upper management. To then attract and retain more women it’s critical we address a key challenge: making finance more accessible to women, both as a client and from a career perspective.

For Claire Alexandre, EMEA Head of Government Relations at PayPal, this can be achieved by creating a more diverse environment in finance in general. “We should see more styles, a more diverse set of talents, broader types of experience, not just individuals from a finance background, which would help create an environment in which women, as well as other individuals, would better thrive.” Manou Hoss, Managing Partner at Elvinger Hoss Prussen, further highlights that finance appears to be male dominated not only from a work perspective, but also from a product perspective. “From the very beginning, women are introduced to finance through a masculine lens, with financial products largely targeting men.”

A lack of female role models also makes finance less appealing for younger women who are considering getting into the sector. “Why would you work in an industry when it seems you’re unlikely to be considered for a promotion?” questions Hoss. The numbers support this. With a lack of visible female leadership, younger individuals will go where their mentors are visible, often into careers that allow them to bring more of themselves to the job. It doesn’t help that finance faces an image crisis, is seen by many to be a taker rather than a giver, and is generally considered to still be a boys club.

What then can be done to bring finance towards a more balanced stance? For Francesca Prym, CEO of UBS Fund Management, it’s about ensuring proper work-life balance in the long term. “Flexibility is key. Post pandemic we should be looking at results achieved, not at the number of hours an individual spends in the company.” Beyond this, it’s also about providing opportunities and clear career development paths. “Companies should also define training that can be useful for long term career development” notes Prym, including working with internal and external specialists in order to build knowledge, engaging in curated learning programs relating to specialisations and creating a more inclusive company culture.

This is the also approach that has been taken at Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), where a number of initiatives have been put in place in order to encourage the development of the next leaders. These initiatives include internships pairing younger women with senior bank leaders, pairing juniors with senior female bankers, and facilitating the exchange of experiences and support via internal networking groups. All of these produce measurably better results for both the individuals concerned and for company notes Sigrun Fredriksson, Country Manager of SEB Luxembourg. This is not only due to the mentorships formed, but also as the junior bankers are more likely to have experiences to lean on later in their careers that make them more capable leaders.

Fredriksson emphasises that increasing the number of female leaders cannot happen by chance. “You require a targeted approach to get there and it’s something that takes a significant amount of work; you need to find and train candidates, either internally or externally, put in succession plans, education plans, and coach the next generation of leaders.” However, it is clearly paying dividends for SEB, with Fredriksson noting that over time the percentage of women as part of the Group Executive Committee increased from 25% to 35%, and the Board of Directors growing from 35% to 45%.

Longer term planning is clearly critical then. This is echoed by Prym, who highlights that while Rome wasn’t built in a day, the trend is positive. “We already see more women leading companies or being part of top management, however we are only likely to reach true 50-50 in two or three generations.” In order to reach this, the only true way is to provide women with the same possibilities as men. “We don’t want to overcorrect and solely look at gender, rather it is qualifications and ability that matter more than anything else,” highlights Prym.

This stems back to candidate selection levels. “The recruitment process is essential and the more we invest in terms of time and resources, ensuring a balanced pipeline of candidates not only in terms of gender but also style, experience and history, is critical” says Alexandre. Fredriksson also places significant emphasis on the recruitment stage, noting that hiring an individual is not about the first job, but rather about the second, third, or even further down the line.

In an environment that seems stacked against women, it can be daunting to enter the field let alone consider the challenges that one might face and how to overcome them. Hoss points to this, highlighting that coming together to overcome these is critical. “Bro culture is for men, what we have is sisterhood and this should be more celebrated and positively acted upon. Ask for support and give support.” Talking about the challenges and the need for diversity is critical, but women should not be the only ones doing so. The individuals interviewed for the article pointed out that we only spoke to women and that it was equally important to have men championing women as well.

It is critical also to step out of the bounds of traditionally considered feminine roles. “It takes a lot of determination to not let yourself be put at the diversity table, to not take minutes or serve coffee. It is critical to be visible and vocal,” notes Hoss. Being visible and vocal is also critical in building a network, both of support and one of connections with peers and leadership to find individuals who will champion you.

The initiatives highlighted are all long-term solutions. There is no quick fix. They require time, money, and individuals who believe in the programs and about driving change within their organisation and the sector overall. However, the direction of travel is set albeit at a slow pace. There are more female role models within the financial sector overall, including the four women interviewed, and many within senior leadership roles across the globe. The trend is positive and it’s paying off, though it should be accelerated.

As Yuriko Backes, Luxembourg’s Minister of Finance, highlights: “Economies worldwide are confronted with a shortage of the right skillsets and the necessary human capital. The reality today is that women remain an untapped potential for the future growth of our economies. This is also true for Luxembourg’s financial centre. Championing women and encouraging female leadership is in the interest of our societies, in the interest of more resilient and sustainable economies.”