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Would quotas solve the gender equality problem in financial services?

Gender equality at senior levels in finance is only likely to be achieved through positive discrimination and quotas, according to a leading adviser firm.

Sesame Bankhall Group executive chairman John Cowan believes that while there will be women who will not want to feel they are making up numbers, quotas will be necessary to achieve gender balance on boards and in senior positions.

He says: “I suspect if we are going to have to create real change we are probably going to have to go down the quota route. We have to do that otherwise we won’t get there.”

He adds: “The role of non-executive directors is also important as they should be holding management to account.”

Cowan was speaking at the annual Pimfa Women in Wealth breakfast today.

He says while there are still sexist attitudes in finance, the industry has made huge strides since he started in 1969.

He adds: “Anyone who is openly homophobic or sexist today is marginalised quite quickly.

“There is still an element of the ‘Jack the lad culture’, particularly sales, but it is not anything like it was five or 10 years ago.”

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Also speaking at the event, Treasury committee chair Nicky Morgan says while gender diversity and equality for minority groups is important, she does not believe quotas are the solution.

She says: “I am uncomfortable with the idea of setting specific quotas, so I think you have to have a number to aim for. As I get older I get more bullish on this. We know women are not getting into senior positions. We know there are still assumptions being made, so we have got to be tougher on all of this.”

Morgan adds: “Instinctively, I am still slightly uncomfortable with really overt positive discrimination because it does not change the culture of companies.”

She says it is important for firms to review and challenge their recruitment and promotional processes for change to happen.

She adds: “It is very easy for us to recruit our own image. These senior roles need to give more permission and power to those in middle management who are in charge of recruiting.”

According to a Government-backed review of gender balance in the FTSE 350, sexist bosses believe businesswomen “don’t fit in” at board level and “don’t want the hassle” of top quality jobs.

The explanations were heard by the team behind the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review, which has challenged all FTSE 350 companies to make sure at least a third of their board members are women by 2020.

Companies with more than 250 employees were recently forced to publish their gender pay gap figures by the Government.

The figures proved to be embarrassing for many firms in the advice and investment sectors which pride themselves on diversity and has forced them to finally confront the problem of pay disparity head on.


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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. “Your Adviser has not been appointed due to their technical knowledge, qualifications or experience, but because of gender.”
    Good luck with running that past your PI insurers.

  2. A few comments from an Old White Man:

    I agree with a lot of what Nicky Morgan says and positive discrimination, however well meaning, is still discrimination. Quotas are always self defeating in the longer term: the right person for the job is just that, irrespective of gender, age, creed or orientation.

    She is right in that we need to challenge the recruiting practices of recruiting in our own image and there most definitely should not be a gender bias in regard to pay – that is just wrong.

  3. Duncan Gafney 7th June 2018 at 8:25 am

    I often wonder how otherwise intelligent people come to the conclusion that solving the problem of “discrimination” can be achieved through making discrimination mandatory…

    The only criteria ever applied to any job role, should always be “who is the best person for the job”.

  4. Quotas will simply replace gender inequality with talent inequality. Talk me through how that can help any business.

  5. As someone who has served as a Diversity and Inclusion champion I can assure John that quotas are a lazy way to solve a deep rooted issue. However when recruiting if two equal candidates are on the short list improving diversity must favour the candidate that would improve diversity in that firm.
    I short Politicians alway favour sound bite over pragmatic solutions and strategy

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