The worrying lack of females in senior management roles across all industries has hit the headlines during the past year, with the latest data from Pipeline and Ridgeway Partners revealing that females make up just one sixth of executive committee members across the FTSE 350.
One sector in which this gender divide is particularly notable is finance, and a high proportion of Britain’s largest listed companies fall into this sector.
Earlier this year, the government introduced the ‘Women in Finance Charter’, which has been signed by a number of major financial firms pledging to improve gender diversity in senior roles. But the results of this could take many years to come into fruition. In the meantime the industry continues to evolve and change at a rapid rate. So, what is the current state of play for women working in finance and what opportunities does the industry offer to female employees?
High street to online
Towards the latter part of the 20th century, a career in banking was widely viewed as a reliable choice for women and provided employment opportunities across a variety of skills sets. From administrative and clerical duties to customer-facing and management positions, jobs roles in bank branches on British high streets offered something for everyone.
Moreover, while the glass ceiling was very much apparent in senior City roles, banking was still a solid career choice for many females. Then the financial crisis of the early 2000s changed the landscape, arguably, forever. Branches began to close and banks turned to the government for rescue deals, or risked permanent closure.
In the past 12 months, the economy was starting to pick up again and we definitely noticed a rise in the number of positions being opened by financial clients keen to expand their workforce again. However, following the Brexit vote there has been more bad news for the banking sector and Lloyds recently announced it would close a further 200 branches, resulting in a loss of 3,000 jobs. The group has already shed approximately 45,000 jobs since the economic crisis. Clearly, the landscape is far from certain for both male and female candidates alike.
The future of finance is digital
One key reason for the closure of branches is the rising use of technology, with many customers no longer visiting their local branch in person. Digital payments, contactless transactions and online banking is now the norm in British society, which clearly impacts the need for clerical staff and those in supporting services. Many of our clients are now requesting that financial candidates have strong data skills and are highly competent in the use of technology and analytical tools.
The so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ responsible for this change is clearly unwelcome by those working in branches facing closure, but it could actually pose some fantastic opportunities for future generations of workers able to embrace technology and demonstrate skills across science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
The present STEM landscape is heavily male dominated. The Office for National Statistics suggests that women only make up 13 per cent of STEM professionals, despite representing 64 per cent of the overall labour market. However, there are some inspirational women already working at the helm of financial technology (FinTech) such as Ruth Porat, CFO at Google, and Emily Mackay, founder and CEO of Crowdsurfer, and measures are being taken to continue this trend.
Many brands have produced viral advertising campaigns encouraging females to study STEM subjects, including Microsoft’s Girls Do Science video and the Inspire Her Mind campaign from Verizon Wireless. NASA is set to release a film about its female scientists at the start of 2017, with the official film trailer viewed hundreds of thousands of times on the day of its release.
The collective body techUK is running a Women in Tech initiative working with young people to change the way the industry is perceived by girls, as well as challenging the industry to do more to hire more females. It is encouraging to see a number of universities also striving to increase the number of female intakes on STEM courses, yet the onus must also be on employers to do the same.
As the financial industry moves towards one that sits firmly within the STEM space and FinTech continues to evolve, there will be a huge need for employees with technological skills to take on new and exciting roles. The career prospects from this evolution are endless and it could be a fantastic opportunity for women to grasp the roles and rise through the ranks.
This will only be possible if wider society recognises the need to encourage young women to study STEM subjects from an early age. The responsibility for this rests with us all, but business leaders can play a key role and should lead by example. They can ensure that their workforce is balanced and provide rewards for skill and dedication, regardless of gender.
About the author
Jo Sellick is the managing director of recruitment specialist, Sellick Partnership.