Inspiring inclusion: Unbiased’s Karen Barrett shares her personal reflections on how and why boosting diversity & inclusion is essential for the financial services profession to thrive

by | Mar 8, 2024

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As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, the theme of which is #Inspiringinclusion, Karen Barrett, CEO and Founder of Unbiased.co.uk reflects on her rewarding career in financial services. In this exclusive blog for IFA Magazine, we’re grateful to Karen for sharing her thoughts on how and why boosting diversity and inclusion in financial services is so crucial if we are to build the thriving profession where everyone  benefits and we can all be proud to be a part of.

“I’ve certainly seen a significant rise in the awareness of issues a lot of us face as women in finance. There’s now much more data showing the reality of the situation and just how far we are from gender equity, which has been a start in terms of addressing the problem.

“We’ve also seen a lot of positive data in recent years backing up how women positively impact the performance of a company and create a better cultural environment in businesses to help focus initiatives to improve the gender balance.

“As a personal reflection, I have been conscious for a long time of making sure I hold my ground when I’ve been spoken over or when my ideas have been taken by others. It happened to me once at a product provider-sponsored round table dinner, where I was answering a question and a man started talking over me when I clearly hadn’t finished – it shocked and disappointed me at the time and I’ve actively fought back against it ever since.

 
 

“As women, we have to know our voices are just as important as men’s, and there’s absolutely no reason we should be paid less for doing the same job when we have the same level of experience. In my experience, there is a level of awkwardness around the topic of gender diversity in the workplace, I would encourage men to educate themselves and each other on the merits of cognitive diversity at work, as this is far from a box ticking exercise.”

#Inspiringinclusion – can we do more?

“As a female founder in financial services, to me, inspiring inclusion – the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day –  is about using my position where possible to pay it forward to other women looking to grow their careers in the sector. The way I see it, having got to where I am, I should be passing on advice and learnings from my own experience – be this in my own management of my team, as a mentor or speaking externally in the media and podcasts.

 
 

“There’s a large and growing network of women out there who have the battle scars from their own experiences and are increasingly vocal about this to help other women navigate their careers. It’s important to me that this movement isn’t just about actions that women can take, but the actions men in the workplace can take to inspire inclusivity too.  A true culture of inclusivity allows people of all genders to thrive based on merit rather than gender stereotype.’’

Bringing about change

“Female representation in financial services is a complex issue and certainly not one we’ll solve overnight.

 
 

“If I had to pick three key changes to start with, it would be paying women fairly, providing management support and training for women to encourage them to grow in their careers, and ensuring a flexible return to work for those taking time out for caring duties, having children or going through the menopause. It’s all relatively straightforward stuff, but it would make a huge difference to our ability – and our desire – to forge lasting, successful and rewarding careers in this industry.”

Cross-gender action is needed

But it shouldn’t fall on women alone to take control and make a difference. The responsibility should lie with all of us within financial services. Given the existing imbalance, I’d argue it’s more on men at all levels of management to ensure they are positively discriminating against women and ensuring policies are in place to create environments in which women can thrive. It benefits us all to have women represented well in the workplace – not just culturally but commercially, too. You need only take a cursory look at the data to see the boost women have on financial performance.”

 
 

The role of leadership within businesses

“Unbiased proactively seeks to recruit for gender parity – ensuring that recruiters understand we need to see a balanced pool to select from. It is important to us that the candidate pool is representative of society so we can make the best hire, of course, this doesn’t always mean that we will select a female into the role, but at least we are fishing in a balanced pool.

As a female-founded business, I’m proud to say that this attracts employees looking to work in an environment where females are well represented.  This in turn helps us to attract male colleagues who also see the value in working in a gender diverse business.”

 
 

A joint approach

“In a perfect world companies would hire based on skills, regardless of gender, age or other arbitrary factors. I’d like to see more women in all levels of business, with significantly more in senior decision-making roles which will have the impact of real change.

“The traditional models of home making are outdated – whereby, broadly speaking, women continue to pick up the majority of the mental load and labour in the home.  As fathers, men must consider the duties in their home space: this is a full-time job. If they are supportive of their wives or partners progressing in their careers – how can men do their equal share around the home too? This alone would have a huge positive impact on women’s ability to excel in the workplace.”

 
 

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