REPORT | Clearing the barriers to women’s progress in financial services

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Pieter Crafford | Financial Services Advisory Leader | PwC South Africamail me |


Financial services sector worldwide is missing ‘window of opportunity’ to support women’s career progress. Globally, financial services is falling behind other sectors when it comes to supporting women’s progress into senior positions, according to a report issued by PwC.

The report has found that 54% of women working in the financial services sector believe that their diversity status is a barrier to career progression in their organisation, compared to 45% in other industries.

The focus on equality in the workplace has never been more critical. There are tremendous opportunities for Financial Services companies to boost diversity and inclusion within their organisations and reap the benefits. In this report we look at how leaders and employers can make this possible.

The report

Seeing is believing: clearing the barriers to womens progress in financial services – surveyed 290 professional women aged 28 to 40 who are working in the financial services sector globally. The financial services sample forms part of a survey of 3,627 women from all sectors worldwide.

While more women are moving into senior leadership positions within financial services, many still struggle to progress during the pivotal middle years of their careers. Career advancement for women in financial services presents something of a paradox– the progress at the very top isn’t yet reflected in mid-tier management and executive committees, where moving up the ladder remains very difficult. More representation of women in senior roles is an important step, but it is not enough.

Working mothers

The report also raises concerns about the impact of workplace policies intended to support working mothers.

Nearly 60% of new mothers in financial services believe they have been overlooked for career-advancing opportunities on returning to work after a period of absence, such as maternity leave. More than half think that while such policies as flexible working exist in their workplace, they are not readily available in practice or would have a negative impact if taken advantage of. More than half of women are also worried about the impact that having children might have on their career, compared to 42% of women in all industries.

Establishing flexible working arrangements that work for both the employer and the employee is vital. It is also important to challenge the assumption that flexible working is solely an option for mothers; staff at all levels of an organisation can and should be part of a broader shift towards more agile working arrangements.

Ultimately, flexible working should be genuinely flexible, rather than so rigid that it doesn’t reflect personal circumstances and aspirations. Communication is therefore key in finding out what best suits individual employees.

Inappropriate language, insults and bullying

The survey results also show that 43% of women in the financial services sector have experienced inappropriate language, insults or bullying, compared to an average of 34% in other sectors.

Companies need to ensure that behavior of this kind results in consequences. Clear and decisive action is needed to show women that their concerns will be taken seriously, rather than being ignored or, worse still, leading to penalties against them for speaking out.

On the positive side

On a more positive note, more than 60% of women say they have negotiated (proactively pursued/ proposed) a promotion in the past two years, compared to less than half of the participants of all industries.

The report focuses on three key areas for business leaders to look at:

  1. The importance of transparency, dialogue and trust in convincing women they can succeed in an organisation, and helping them to understand what they need to do to progress;
  2. The need for active management support to identify future leaders and ensure they acquire the necessary experience and access to networks to enhance their development.
  3. Creating an environment that enables women to balance their personal and professional aspirations in a culture that embraces rather than simply accepts flexible working.

The report also lists five actions women believe employers should take to improve career opportunities:

  1. Create fair and transparent promotion and appraisal processes.
  2. Invest in training and continuing education programmes for employees.
  3. Provide a clear definition of organisational roles, levels and promotion criteria to help employees understand what is expected at the next level for promotion.
  4. Provide skills assessments to help employees understand strengths and development areas.
  5. Change workplace culture to support equal opportunity for progression (e.g. track key metrics aligned to diversity objectives).

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT | Seeing is believing- clearing the barriers to womens progress in financial services |


 

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