Beyond International Women’s Day
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where we didn’t have to write these sort of articles? Where women could just do the jobs they’re qualified to do instead of feeling a need to be perpetually armed with data and statistics that prove their worth. Where they didn’t have to assure an employer they’re not going to dissolve into a fit of hysteria if they see a baby out a passing window.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.
Across all industries, women are still met with relentless bias. This is both overt and, its trickier to detect cousin, unconscious.
No amount of articles will change the mind of the overt discriminator. They are firmly cemented in their views and will be damned if they’ll change them for this ‘woke nonsense’. The overt discriminator fondly reminisces about the seventies when women ‘knew how to take a joke’. They interrupt constantly. They like to label their female colleagues with words such as ‘bossy’, ‘emotional’ or ‘ball-busting’ depending on how much their ego has been bruised. If the overt discriminator had a hero, it would be 17th Century Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.
The unconscious discriminator tends to fly under the radar more as they are not even aware of their behaviour themselves. They may overlook a woman for promotion and greater responsibility by assuming she will want to prioritise her family life. They are more likely to take advice from a male colleague than a female one but do not question why. Once a year, they will share a meme on International Women’s Day and congratulate themselves for being a feminist.
In our article, we take a look at why these forms of bias are so harmful – both to women and the wider economy. We interviewed women in key positions across the financial services industry to draw upon their experiences and analyse what needs to change.
How does bias still exist?
Let’s take a look at some bleak statistics first. There are less women in finance now than in 1997. 1997!
To put it in perspective, 1997 was when the first Harry Potter book was published and the last time the UK won Eurovision. It was also the early days of the internet and the beginning of an era of technology and innovation. The majority of jobs held by women back then were clerical and administrative roles that would soon be eradicated by an ongoing drive for digitisation.
Rather than women taking on the myriad new roles opening up, numerous factors have led them to fail to progress at the same rate as men or even be deterred from applying in the first place.
This is a global issue. Magdalena Golebiewska, the Payments Partnerships and Services Manager at PayPal, relocated from Poland to the UK nearly six years ago. Prior to that, she had lived in various countries and was extensively traveling for work. This experience granted her valuable insights into the disparities between nations. Although she believes the situation in the UK is more evolved than other countries in which she has worked, it is not without its challenges for Magdalena. The bias just persists in a more subtle manner. Speaking to FS Partnership, she disclosed:
“During a couple of job interviews, I was indirectly asked about my family plans, which essentially meant inquiring if I intended to take maternity leave in the near future. People are aware that such questions are inappropriate, yet they fish for that answer. This mindset significantly impedes progress.”
Golebiewska asserts that issue is pervasive in every company she has worked for, regardless of location. She observes that most senior positions are still dominated by men. Hiring a woman can be viewed as something we “should start doing,” but is then met with hesitance and an unconscious fear that women may not perform as well as men due to differing priorities such as family, mental health, and work-life balance. She highlights that “Various research consistently highlights the need for women to work harder to prove their worth in the workplace: a situation that should no longer persist. Creating an inclusive work environment is crucial for unlocking the full potential of talented individuals, regardless of gender”.
There is also an assumption that women will not be suited to certain types of role – an assumption made for them by the men in charge. Elise Hockley, COO & Head of Investor Relations from Earth Capital Ltd is wary of investment firms who proudly boast their stats on overall female employees negating to mention that the core, senior roles are still held by men.
“Some firms put women front and centre on the website but then expect them to step out the way so they can do the “boys’ job”. They want to tick the diversity box but then won’t let the women in the firm actually do anything of substance.”
Further to this point, last year’s ‘Women in the Workplace’ report from McKinsey shows that in corporate America, only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman and only one in twenty C-suite leaders is a woman of colour.
Why is this a problem?
It’s pointless launching into a moral diatribe. Those who need to be convinced to treat women better out of decency aren’t reading this article. They’re out and about, shouting at waiters and stealing tuppences from children.
So let’s focus on the commercial facts. According to the above McKinsey article, women leaders are switching jobs at an unprecedentedly high rate. Companies risk losing the next generation of female leadership and with it a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience. According to the IMF: “a greater presence of women in financial institutions and financial policymaking goes hand in hand with greater financial resilience.”
Research from the World Economic Forum asserts that “Venture capital firms that increased their proportion of female partner hires by 10% saw, on average, a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns each year and had 9.7% more profitable exits.” Earth Capital Ltd’s Hockley emphasises the vast body of research available documenting the relationship between diversity and improved financial performance.
The International Labour Organization reported on the ‘business case for change’:
“[They] surveyed almost 13,000 enterprises in 70 countries. More than 57 per cent of respondents agreed that gender diversity initiatives improved business outcomes. Almost three-quarters of those companies that tracked gender diversity in their management reported profit increases of between 5 and 20 per cent, with the majority seeing increases of between 10 and 15 per cent.”
The McKinsey article also references the time female employees spend working on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and championing employee well-being; work that often goes unrewarded and unrecognised yet is crucial for employee retention which, yet again, improves a company’s profitability.
How can the industry change?
Education is key to solving some of these issues. PayPal’s Golebiewska is emphatic that girls should be encouraged to learn financial and technical skills from an early age rather than the traditional push towards the humanities.
In the workplace itself, Golebiewska suggests the presence of a ‘custodian of diversity’: a senior female employee who is in charge of ensuring women are treated fairly and equally. Almost every company has a diversity and inclusion programme but often these don’t amount to anything of significance. There needs to be something pro-active in place to truly promote diversity as opposed to it being a box-ticking exercise. Golebiewska champions the initiative HeForShe – an organisation demonstrating how collaboration between genders have the power to truly transform the world.
Earth Capital Ltd has a similar approach, taking conscious action to look inwards at how they’re investing and the gender diversity of the companies with whom they collaborate. They are members of 100 Women in Finance, signatories of HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter and belong to key groups such as Global Women in VC and European Women in VC. Networking is key to growing and understanding the evolving challenges women face and how they can be best supported. Mentoring programmes and training opportunities can also ensure continued support systems are in place. Earth Capital Ltd’s CEO Avent Bezuidenhoudt cites the organisations Level 20 and 10,000 Black Interns which run mentoring programmes specific to private equity and venture capital as examples to learn from.
Similar to Magdalena’s ‘custodian of diversity’, Bezuidenhoudt believes there also needs to be a focus on the people doing the actual hiring within a company.
“It is common for those doing the interviewing to hire people who look and sound like them. There needs to be an increased proportion of women making the key decisions regarding hiring and promoting.”
When women are in these positions of decision-making power, it sends out a positive message to other potential female employees and those looking to rise up through the company.
In addition to this, Trade Finance Global suggests more women should be invited to speak at conferences and events to promote their achievements and skills. They also emphasise that women should not be penalised by choosing motherhood in their careers. Equal opportunities for parental leave and flexible working should be in place for both women and men to avoid automatically placing the responsibly and career hiatus on the mother’s side.
The UK has made considerable progress in the last year with the proportion of women in board roles in FTSE 350 companies above 40% for the first time.
However, it is important to remember that there is still a way to go and supporting female employees, colleagues and leaders is vital to both employee satisfaction and commercial success.
As shown in this article, there’s a wealth of statistics out there showing the challenges women face. This further emphasises the fact that women (in addition to doing their actual work) have a secondary job of continually proving their worth. Maybe we need to reshape the narrative. Maybe these headlines and articles should focus on why these impenetrable male boards are failing to achieve the results of their more diverse competitors.
Account Director, FS Partnership