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Lisa Winnard: A call for women in financial services

An age-old struggle to attract women into financial adviser roles means the demographic remain significantly underrepresented.


A recent report from Pricewaterhouse-Coopers high-lighted that, despite making up more than half the workforce in financial institutions, women continue to dramatically lag behind their male counterparts in leadership roles. 

Data from 20 global markets shows women comprise nearly 60 per cent of employees in the financial services industry but only 19 per cent progress through the leadership ranks to senior level roles. Board and chief executive representation is even more alarming: women hold only 14 per cent of board seats and a mere 2 per cent of chief executive positions.

We wonder why this is the case and why there is not more out there to attract and retain women in financial services, particularly when many studies suggest companies with a gender-diverse board perform significantly better than their competitors. 

Many countries already recognise the need for greater diversity and adopt key initiatives that require companies to raise the number of women in leadership positions. This is far from just a social issue but one with financial, legislative, risk and talent management implications.

This may change over the next decade, however, as the European Commission recently adopted a proposal for legislation requiring that women make up 40 per cent of board director seats by 2020. To avoid sanctions, many companies will need to take urgent measures to comply. We may want to look over the pond and take note of some of the statistics in the US, where women are controlling 50 per cent of the private wealth and one-third of households’ finances.

With women in the UK representing almost half of the working population, it could be argued that without more in financial services, companies could struggle to understand and meet the needs of the changing customer demographic. There is so much more to do to help women with their personal financial management, according to research carried out by Scottish Widows, which found:

  • There is still an awareness gap, in which only 15 per cent of women say they fully understand pensions.
  • Just 29 per cent of women are currently part of a company pension scheme.
  •  Only 7 per cent of women say they are confident in their knowledge of annuities.
  • Just over 40 per cent of women want a fixed income in retirement.
  • A staggering 90 per cent of women do not have a financial adviser.
  • We have struggled over the years to attract women into financial adviser roles and therefore they remain significantly underrepresented. Out of 8,195 firms, only 10 per cent have at least one female member of staff, according to figures from Unbiased.

With so much to do in attracting more women into the industry, can financial services – and indeed the professional advice sector – step up to the plate to attract and retain more female talent? 

Lisa Winnard is HR director at Sesame Bankhall Group



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There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I don’t think women are being barred or constrained. There are plenty in the law, medicine and even accountancy. However those that are in our business are very good indeed. But trying to force up the numbers is akin to financial Foie Gras. You can’t force feed it.

    I find that many women are just not interested in this business. If my wife – who is a talented business woman – is anything to go by, they find it boring and the red tape stultifying.

    The profession needs to ‘get with it’. There are still far too many examples of visiting clients in the evenings – a huge turnoff for many women – and quite rightly so.

    Basically for many this is a second career and women tend not to want a second bash at a working life.
    So let us just not beat ourselves up over this. If women – or anyone else for that matter – find this business an attractive proposition, they will join. Otherwise they will vote with their feet.

  2. FCA meeting with APFA yesterday. One woman, men. All bar one of us over 30 I think and ALL white.

  3. I agree with Harry. I am a female with a successful career in the industry but have taken a different direction in order to spend the evenings with my family. Working full time in any industry is a big decision to make when you have children and irrespective of whether you are male or female it is a personal choice as to whether you wish to give up evenings to make client visits. I personally don’t – work/life balance is key, whether you are a doctor or in financial services and perhaps I am just fortunate enough to have found that balance.

  4. E L Wisty (an only twin) 24th February 2015 at 9:51 am

    Equality as evidenced by statistic will always be doomed to failure, as certain people will always cherry-pick in order to grind their axe of choice.

    Financial services, and the City in particular, have come a huge way over the last twenty years, in terms of offering opportunity and equality to women, as well as a wide spectrum of under-represented minorities. I very much welcome this and, in a very small way, have done my bit to encourage female graduates and flexible working practices. Companies who do not embrace such practices are missing out on talent, and will suffer commercially.

    However, hard-line feministas are trying to have their low-cal cupcake and eat it. They scream for equality, and then champion women-only networking groups – which should be commercially beneficial for women participants (even if overtly sexist – just imagine the approbation that the launch of a networking group just for men would attract ….), but somehow never are.

    In my opinion, opportunity is the key and then it should be down to ability and meritocracy. In particular, firms need to find ways to attract talent and then retain it – for women, this means having a dialogue about family plans (I can see HR professionals sweating already) and encouraging a return to work that is flexible without restricting ambition.

    Like it or not, child birth can a break on career success, as client relationships are broken, technical knowledge interrupted and profits affected. Firms need to find a way of working around this, by encouraging team based relationships, continuing T & C for staff taking career breaks and job-sharing. To avoid bias, perhaps men should be required to take funded, two year sabbaticals around the same time – this suggestion is slightly tongue in cheek, but could have merits!

    No improvement in statistics that is contingent on quotas, or prejudice, will succeed in achieving effective female participation – but will create friction and discontent. Equally so, as evidenced by the rise in suicide amongst young women, equality can be double-edged sword, but above all it must be equitable.

  5. I hear what you are saying Wisty.

    One of the only reasons I could AFFORD to take the risk of establishing my own business in 1998 was my wife’s decision that continuing her degree in HR wasn’t for her after all and she decided to return to work part-time, establishing my own business, then enabled me to pick and choose which clients I serviced and during what time of day, without a line manager demanding why I hadn’t done 15 appointments that week and attended the 9 o’clock sales meeting having only got home for a clients the night before at 11pm before going for a 3 mile run and eating my dinner.

    I am pleased to see there are increasing numbers of house husbands now who recognise that their job as a fisherman, car mechanic or even financial adviser can allow the flexibility for their partner to have a career AND have children. We were fortunate in having the support of two sets of grandparents and now we are trying to do the same to help our own children and our grandchildren by maintaining that flexibility where their own employers fail to see the value they loose by not CONSIDERING flexible learning.

    Notice I say CONSIDER as ultimately it is an employee and employer relationship however much I SAY we work together to support our clients, I do not expect to have to cover excessively for staff absences although there should be an element of quid pro quo and setting an example of willingness to help.

  6. Not wishing to dismiss this article and debate out of hand, but are some people trying to find something that really isn’t there ?

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