What are some of the changes which could be made to encourage more women into financial services? The industry responds 

by | Mar 8, 2024

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As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, IFA Magazine is proud to be shining the spotlight on so many of the inspirational women working in this male-dominated financial services world in our special focus on the role of “Women in Finance”. 

According to the damming report issued earlier today by the House of Commons Treasury Committee entitled “Sexism in the City”, not enough is being done to bring about a change to gender inequity in the City – you can read the full report here Sexism in the City (parliament.uk) 

The Committee’s report said: “First and foremost, responsibility for tackling these issues and driving much-needed cultural change has to sit with the senior leadership and boards of firms. Firms need to consider what diversity and inclusion initiatives will have most impact, drawing on best practice from those that are achieving success, and implement those initiatives with the same rigour as other core business priorities. Firms should see success in this area as not only a moral imperative but a competitive advantage in the attraction and retention of talent. Investors also have a key role to play in holding firms to account for their performance on diversity and inclusion and pushing for greater change. Firms also need to embed a zero-tolerance culture towards harassment and bullying in the workplace. They should ensure there are robust processes in place to investigate allegations of harassment, with perpetrators of abuse, rather than their victims, suffering negative consequences. Men need to take a more active role in challenging and reporting sexual harassment by other men, as well as in improving cultures more broadly.” 

 
 

That’s all well and good of course. But what do women working in the profession suggest can be done by the industry and businesses to boost gender equity ? 

Bronwen Horton, Senior Chartered Financial Planner at Killik and Co, said: “There are a number of changes which industry and businesses could make to encourage more women into financial services, three centre around visibility. The first is to ensure the women within these organisations are visible role models for the next generations. We often hear from young women that they find it hard to be what they can’t see however, if they are exposed to hearing from more women commentating in the news, on social media, leading out-reach programmes and sharing how they came to work in the industry, it becomes more familiar and a viable option. 

“Another change is to heavily increase the amount of senior male champions there are which visibly encourage women into financial services. This helps to breakdown unconscious bias in our workplaces, set a high standard for leadership of our organisations and helps support the development and progression of existing female talent. Externally, this helps next generations. 

 
 

“Finally, to attract more women into financial services organisations, businesses need to invest long-term in their development. Dedicated mentoring and training will set women up for a fulfilling career with professional qualifications. This shows commitment and builds long-term relationships. 

“This collaborative approach, combining visibility of female role models, active support from male champions, and substantial investment in the education and professional development of women, lays a solid foundation for transforming the financial services industry into a more inclusive and equitable space. By embracing these changes, the industry can not only attract more women but also foster an environment where they can thrive and lead, ultimately driving innovation and growth.” 

Harriette Collings, BD Director – International IFAs, Evelyn Partners, suggests that there are a number of changes which could be made within financial services and in the greater economy to encourage women commenting: 

 
 

“My first suggestion is representation – having women visible in senior leadership roles and in client facing roles – sales, investment management, financial planning etc. Ensuring women can see representation across different FS industries, roles & positions is crucial to encourage and inspire others into career progression. 

“Dispelling the myths behind the financial services industry would also help, in my opinion. After all, not all roles within financial services require an Economics/Maths degree! I believe that a huge part of working in FS, especially wealth management is being a people person. A quality wealth manager requires a strong empathic & collaborative nature as well as technical expertise. 

“Ensuring that there is equal pay for equal work is essential if we are to achieve real gender parity. By that I mean that basic pay, bonuses & non-financial benefits need to be equal between genders. 

 
 

“Improving financial literacy at an early stage of development will also be crucial. By doing so, we can empower more people in general (in particular women) to take control of their own finances, starting with integrating financial literacy into the school curriculum. 

“Providing for improved work-life balance and flexibility would make a huge difference to encouraging women to a long-term career in finance. By that, I mean that we would need to see arrangements in place to help women balance family responsibilities and their career without having to give up one for another. Improved parental leave policies for both men & women, return to work programmes to ensure women are supported during the transition back to work could all support a more established workforce for the long term. 

“Finally, I believe that mentorship can be transformative. By providing mentorship internally at FS businesses can ensure women stay within the industry & and are supported through different phases of their career. School & university mentoring would also encourage women to look at FS as a career in the first place. Evelyn Partners are partners of The Girls Network so I’m sure there are many ways that businesses can get involved to support greater awareness and engagement, encouraging broader diversity, equity and inclusion across the sector to the benefit of everyone.” 

 
 

For Sarah Shove, Head of EMEA Marketing at PIMCO, it’s a multi-faceted approach that’s needed as she comments: “While it is true that we have made significant progress over the past few decades, it is crucial we don’t become complacent. We must continue to push for improvement and ensure there is a continuous process of learning, adapting, and striving for better, and it requires the commitment of everyone in the industry.

“Many flagship programs and initiatives have attracted a wider cohort to asset management from different backgrounds. However, companies should regularly assess their diversity and inclusion efforts, seeking feedback from their employees and making adjustments as needed.

“Continuing to emphasize STEM subjects for girls is important, as early exposure to the field can demystify it and spark interest among young women. Then we must go beyond merely opening doors to women; we need to foster an environment where everyone, regardless of gender, feels valued and included. This includes addressing unconscious bias, promoting work-life balance, and ensuring that women have equal opportunities for advancement and leadership roles. Women in the industry need access to mentors who can guide them through their careers as these relationships can provide invaluable advice, open up networking opportunities, and help break down barriers to progression.”

 
 

Lindsey Baldwin, Head of Marketing, Defaqto said: “As a male dominated industry, I think it’s important to see more women in senior roles in financial services and greater exposure of this, not just in women’s forums, but in mainstream channels too. I’d also love to see greater education about their road to success, to inspire and guide how they have achieved this in financial services. 

“Bringing diversity to the top table will help to create an environment that fosters broader thinking and more naturally embraces diversity. Success at senior level will be a catalyst to drive diversity and the benefits of this throughout the business. Not only will this inspire future female leaders and encourage a more diverse workforce, but it will also positively reflect what the business takes to market and meet the needs of a broader audience.” 

Vanessa Harrison, Director, Vanessa Harrison Wealth Management believes that you need to be able to see it to be it as she comments: “A promising possibility could be to increase the promotion of financial roles, with current and past female financial leaders providing talks and offering their contact details at schools and universities. This would perhaps encourage women to consider the finance industry with more interest. Another key change is highlighting the flexibility, alongside the earning potential, maintaining this role as an option for women that would prefer to prioritise a work-life balance as I did. Not forgetting the satisfaction of guiding clients towards their financial objectives! 

 
 

“Showcasing successful females who have prospered in finance as role models through targeted marketing and media campaigns is also an option to consider. Seeing women thriving in the field could inspire and encourage others to consider it as a viable career option. 

“Government initiatives to educate children about finance from an early age could place financial careers on their radar, potentially encouraging more young women to explore this path as they understand the importance of finance. Whilst also emphasising the importance of communication, empathy, and relationship-building skills in the financial sector which are often attributes women excel in. 

“Finally, as more women enter the finance industry they will spread the word. Women often engage in discussions about their professional lives and share positive experiences, inspiring others to explore similar role.” 

 
 

Romany Youell, financial adviser at NeedingAdvice.co.uk, said: “For this to change, better representation is needed. We need to show women that there is a place for them in the profession and they can be successful. 

“When I passed my exams at 18 years old, I was one of the few young women in the industry. “Most advisers in the industry are male, and I found having no female role models difficult. I often felt as though I was an anomaly and struggled with imposter syndrome. 

“Not only did I have doubts when I started, but I was also used to various male advisers doubting my abilities. I was once told that “you will never be as successful as a male adviser, simply because you’re a woman”. Not only is this extremely damaging to a woman who has just started in the industry, but this kind of statement could have a knock-on effect on future generations. It’s clear that we need to educate these advisers and encourage much more representation. 

 
 

“It’s one factor in appreciating the value of women as advisers. However, we need to take it further, highlight the shocking statistics and call out those with these outdated beliefs. Luckily, I used these negative comments and opinions as motivation to prove them wrong. Over the years, my confidence has grown massively. This is the direct result of believing in my abilities and believing that I am constantly learning and improving. 

“As a result, my clients are confident that I have their best interests at heart, and I have built genuine, long-lasting client relationships. They know they can depend on me, and I genuinely care about them 

and their financial needs/goals. The lack of representation also affects the number of women advisers transitioning from a paraplanning role. According to Quilter, just 6% of female paraplanners said they would like to go on to become a financial adviser. Compared to 62% of men who would like to progress to a financial advice role. This is a big problem and is one of the main reasons for the lack of women in the profession. 

“This is mainly due to a lack of representation in the media and the need for more diversity of advisers in individual firms. There continues to be a perception that sales experience is an adviser’s primary skill. Let’s tell women that advice is more about creating long-standing client relationships. This might attract them to the advice profession. That is one of the reasons I created my Finance Instagram page, @TheFinanceWoman_, to provide financial education and inform women of the many opportunities within the profession. My goal is to diversify the gender of financial advisers in the industry and hopefully give them the support I didn’t have access to when I first started.” 

Rose St Louis is a Protection Director for Lloyds Banking Group said: “Focusing on driving the right culture and leadership will be key, as D&I will be an important element of that journey. Having diverse role models and mentors, both internal and industry-wide, can often make a big difference. 

“For many, ‘seeing is believing’ so female role models are vital. I think we have seen an evolution from women displaying what are recognised as male characteristics to be accepted, to women leaning into behaviours seen as typically female and leading with emotional intelligence, clarity, and grace. 

“Pan-industry networks are vital in providing a safe space where women and men can seek counsel and offer advice without fear of penalty or adverse repercussion. Organising and supporting these networks can send a strong signal to their employees and industry peers, providing they lead to meaningful change. 

“And let’s not forget about the career advice and education during school years so girls are aware of what careers in financial services could look like for them.” 

Rupi Bahra, Head of Strategic Accounts and Implementation at MetLife UK: “Although there are many changes that can and still need to be made, I think a focus should be to promote more women. This must start with highlighting their achievements more, and talking openly about the contributions they make. 

“In the past – and sadly in some sectors – I think some women have felt they needed to act like their male counterparts in order to be successful. Now, while there are still improvements to be made, I think we are moving towards a safer space which encourages and allows women to be our authentic selves – which will act to organically encourage more women to start and/or expand their careers.” Laura Grenier, director of operations at WHEB Asset Management said: “I believe that it is important to recognise that women can perform their roles flexibly and on a part-time basis if that is what they want to do. It is also important to encourage more men to work in the same way.”

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