Last week I attended the excellent Women in Finance Summit hosted at the Bloomberg European headquarters in London. It was an opportunity to reflect on the current state of play regarding gender equality in the City and to explore how to speed up the rate of change in this crucial area.
As Simon Kirby MP, Economic Secretary HM Treasury said about the current gender inequality: “It’s not just a problem for women…it’s a problem for all of us.”
There was also much discussion about inclusion in its widest sense. How can we encourage a diverse workforce and ensure that everyone is fully able to contribute, regardless of background, age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation etc. as well as gender – in order to enhance business performance?
The speakers included some of the most influential women in the City including the Morning Chair Helena Morrissey CBE, Chair Newton, Chair, The Investment Association and Founder 30% Club and Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO Virgin Money. Jayne-Anne led the review into the representation of women in senior managerial positions in financial services published on 22 March 2016 which gave rise to the Women in Finance Charter.
Women in Finance Charter
The Women in Finance Charter is a pledge for gender balance across financial services. As the introduction to the Charter states, “This is a commitment by HM Treasury and signatory firms to work together to build a more balanced and fair industry.”
We heard that many financial organisations have already signed the Charter. As Theresa May had earlier commented: “It is good news that so many firms have signed the Women in Finance Charter and are now dedicating themselves to tackling gender inequality. They recognise the business case for doing so and with ambitious targets to deepen the female talent pool, these firms are leading the way.”
However, there are many more organisations yet to sign it.
What Organisations Can Do
The Summit covered many practical ways in which organisations can work towards gender equality and enable more women to move into leadership positions. It was accepted that there is no silver bullet but that, where organisations consistently approach this issue on many fronts in parallel, real progress can be made. Some of the key points covered were:
· Sign the Women in Finance Charter and adhere to the four dimensions of the pledge i.e. having a member of the executive team responsible for gender diversity and inclusion, setting internal targets around gender diversity and publishing progress against these annually and linking pay of the team with delivery against the targets.
· Reinforce the business case for greater gender diversity. As Angela Sun, Global Head of Strategy and Corporate Development, Bloomberg, highlighted in her presentation on the 2017 Bloomberg Gender-Equality index, greater gender equality leads to significant, commercial returns.
· Provide unconscious bias training.
· Ensure women gain more profit and loss experience. This is particularly key for future top roles.
· Make flexible working etc. less about women but more about creating balance for all. For example, some women’s networks are being rebranded to attract both men and women.
· Achieving gender equality requires cultural change. It is not enough just to have written procedures but implementation, especially by line management is key.
· Share the career enhancing opportunities of high profile projects with a wider range of people, including women, than is the current practice.
· As Elin Hurvenes, Founder & Chair, Professional Boards Forum AS said, organisations need to put more women on the “internal CEO bench” and this has to start years before a CEO vacancy becomes available.
· Offer sponsorship and mentoring opportunities to women in the talent pipeline.
· Help women to beware of the dangers perfectionism. As Amanda Pullinger, CEO 100 Women in Finance put it: “Encourage bravery and resilience over being perfect.”
What Women Themselves Can Do
As Helena Morrissey said, the Summit was more about “fixing the system than fixing the women” but acknowledged that, as individual women, we can of course also influence our career success through our own actions.
The speakers and panellists gave a wealth of valuable advice to assist women in developing their careers. Some of the key points were:
· Hard work is not enough - don’t sacrifice the opportunities to be visible by focusing on “getting the job done”. As Melanie Richards, Founding Member, The 30% Club Steering Committee: Vice Chair, KPMG said, women “need to avoid “the tiara syndrome”, noted by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In where you keep your head down, work hard and just expect people to notice you.
· Carolanne MInashi, Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, UBS emphasised, amongst other points, the importance of being willing to “articulate your career ambition”, of “navigating the jump from being a specialist to being a generalist” and of getting more feedback.
· Relationships are key to career success and networking, both internally and externally, is critical.
· Women need to seek mentors and role models and also consider being a mentor and role model to other women who are at earlier stages of their careers.
· Seek a sponsor who will advocate for you and who has the power to influence.
· Take on demanding roles and projects and, as Melanie Richards advised, “Be curious and show an interest in what is going on around you”.
· Above all, women need to find ways to raise their confidence levels to match their achievements and think about themselves as a leader or future leader.
Fundamentally, greater gender equality makes for more successful companies as well being better places for women to work.
The ongoing challenge is for organisations to change their cultures to allow for greater genuine inclusion on gender and all other dimensions of diversity.
Catherine Cuffley is an executive coach and founder of Thinking Choices Limited (www.thinkingchoices.com). She specialises in working with organisations in the City of London to help them to develop their women leaders. She works with senior professional women in banks, insurance companies, law firms and management consultancies etc. to support them in achieving their next leadership position. This may be a place on the board or indeed their first leadership position and everything in between.
Catherine is the author of the forthcoming book, SHIFT: Insights from a City Coach on Succeeding as an Authentic Woman Leader and she also speaks at conferences and events, such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) on the application of neuroscience to leadership, amongst other topics.
Catherine has spent many years in the City in a range of Human Resources, Learning and Development and management consultancy roles. She has repeatedly seen the way in which many talented women in City organisations are not quite reaching the more senior positions they seek. Catherine’s mission is to support women in fulfilling their potential and maximising their contribution whilst enabling organisations to optimise their female talent.