By Melanie Pittas, Partner and Co-Head of Financial Services, haysmacintyre
The current labour market is one of the most competitive ever experienced, and attracting and retaining the best talent is a challenge being faced by many businesses. The culture of a firm is critical to its success in this regard, and its approach to diversity and inclusion plays a significant role in setting the tone of an organisation. A business making true efforts to place inclusion at the core of its agenda can attract and retain talented individuals who might otherwise have been overlooked. Gender diversity is just one strand to this.
The financial sector is a world traditionally dominated by men – but this does not need to be the reality and, happily, progress is being made. At haysmacintyre, an industry-leading firm of Chartered Accountants and Tax Advisers, 29% of our partners and 46% of our workforce are female. Our Financial Services sector is led by women, which sets us apart from our peers, and this has also seen a number of benefits to the team; having a strong female lead, or indeed diversity of any type, brings a differing viewpoint, which in turn means that our approach is more likely to reflect a wider society. Importantly, it also makes progression a realistic prospect for the next generation of talented women, as the path has already been paved. Studies show that the availability of role models increases career commitment and satisfaction. As the adage goes, “if you can see it, you can be it”.
However, the optics alone are not enough; businesses must demonstrate that there is viable and sustainable career progression for women wishing to start a family. Parental leave policies are just the tip of the iceberg. The pandemic brought not only new challenges, but also opportunities as we shifted from a nine-to-five working day. For some, remote-working exacerbated existing issues, such as the “double burden” whereby women take on a greater mental load, and more childcare and domestic duties than men, irrespective of their job. This inequality in the home can itself act as a barrier to career progression, particularly as work demands grow, leading many women to work beneath their potential. However, the overnight shift in our working practices has forced business leaders to consider permanent change. Policies such as flexible and agile working – both of which tended previously to be stigmatised, with a perception that employees were less committed to their careers – now proliferate, which can only be a positive transformation.
An appropriate support network is especially important in creating an environment where employees want to strive to the top. A robust mentoring scheme has been critical to our success in retaining the best people and enabling them to progress their careers with the firm. In practice, our rising stars often have multiple coaches from supervisor level upwards (and in turn, pay it forward by mentoring their juniors), but having one key mentor to provide encouragement and direction throughout an individual’s career has been fundamental. For women, this relationship, however informal, can have an especially meaningful impact on career development, particularly when in place from an early stage.
It is widely recognised that imposter syndrome disproportionately affects women, bringing into even greater focus the need for women to have a sponsor to help them take charge of their career and advocate for them. Interestingly, research has found that women are more than twice as likely as men to advocate other women. Shockingly, studies have found that men are 25% more likely than women to have a sponsor, whilst senior men are 50% more likely to. Addressing this imbalance will have a significant impact on engaging and encouraging women in the workplace – this has certainly been our experience.
Fostering a culture of support is vital in order to nurture female talent. Best in class organisations make inclusion a central part of their cultural change programme and engage frontline leaders; visible and vocal role models play an essential role in messaging. Any unacceptable behaviours must be swiftly stamped out. Ultimately, firms should work towards diversity and inclusion being embedded into all practices, to mitigate the risk of any inadvertent bias. Conscious efforts to change outdated ways of working and thinking, and supporting colleagues and enabling them to feel heard, will combine to build a better and more sustainable organisation for all. The landscape is certainly moving in the right direction, but there is undoubtedly a long way still to go.
If you would like to hear more about Diversity and Inclusion, you can also listen to IFA Magazine’s Financial Insight Podcast episode with Steve Butler which was recorded recently and features more insight on this important topic.