PFS pushes for cultural change to break glass ceiling

by | May 4, 2022

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Cultural change and new career pathways enabling flexible working are required to increase the number of female financial planners, a study commissioned by the Personal Finance Society has concluded.

Chartered Financial Planner and director of Pentins and Women’s Wealth, Samantha Secomb, has combined a wealth of research on barriers to women becoming financial planners with data collated from 15 in-depth interviews with women working in the profession to draw conclusions about ways to make the profession more inclusive.

In a 32-page report, titled Women’s career progression in the UK financial planning sector, Ms Secomb pinpoints why women are still hitting the glass ceiling in 2021 and what action the profession can take to shatter the barriers that prevent many females from reaching top paying roles at the top of the career ladder.

The study points out organisations, rather than individual women, should change their approach if the profession is to become more inclusive sooner rather than later.

Examples of cultural change required include:

• Profession valuing outputs regardless of where and when they were produced, rather than input delivered at a particular time and place.
• Maximum working week scheduled to the workers preference.
• Abolition of normative dress codes.
• Office spaces and promotion practices being established that recognise female characteristics.

The study uncovered some progress in attracting, developing and retaining highly qualified women to the profession in recent years.

Women were found to have become qualified professionals with respectable careers that they have developed organically, especially in the paraplanning profession.

Overall, the financial planning profession was found to have enough opportunities to accommodate the fluctuating career intensity requirements that women were found to have in response to competing life demands.

Pay within the profession was also found to increasingly reflect qualification and competence attainments providing a premium compared to taking alternative work outside the sector.

But the study also uncovered continuing barriers for women to climb the career ladder.

Women were found to hit the glass ceiling when they became primary carers for children, with their career progression stunted by competitive hierarchal structures, requirements to work long hours and a bias for presenteeism.

Ms Secomb, author of the report, said: “Much of the effort to change the male domination of finance is directed at teaching women to navigate the barriers so they can rise to leadership roles.

“There are advocates for a more radical approach that changes the workplace with more flexible, flatter organisational structures and collaborative managers.

“Financial planning is still inclined to rely on production measures that reflect the historic transaction commission and gathering of assets that suit a sales industry. Less emphasis is placed on things such as client satisfaction, long-term sustainability and the reputation of the business.

“The reward and promotion systems are measuring performance elements in which competitive behaviour yields results, which are deemed masculine characteristics.

”Organisations benefit from the stability and unifying nature of the more communal characteristics of women, but these often do not contribute to performance monitoring that drives promotion prospects.”

“Flexible home working enabled by technology, professional rather than sales career opportunities, a shortage of advisers, and a demand for relationship-led advice, all point to women being a likely solution for the future resourcing of the financial planning profession.”

Ultimately the report challenges the profession to build career pathways that recognise in their early careers, women are keen to find their authentic self, and goals and achievement dominate, mid-career women must dedicate effort to balancing relational demands and later in life females seek challenge.

Sarah Lord, President of the Personal Finance Society, said:

“Financial planning is a wonderful profession for women to achieve great things whilst having a fulfilling and rewarding career.

“In the past, due to the historical stereotypical sales culture, it was perceived that the job entailed long hours and always being available, rather than the reality of what is required to be a financial planning professional today.

“Creating work environments that allow women to strike a balance and harmony between work and other elements of their lives is key to financial planning becoming a more inclusive profession.”

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