Achieving Gender Diversity in Finance

Bruin’s recent Breakfast seminar “Achieving Gender Diversity in Finance” provided a forum for finance professionals to have a round table discussion on strategies to attract, retain, develop, and progress women working in finance.

Led by Bruin Financial, recipient of the Women in Finance ’Recruiter of the Year’ Award for their diversity initiatives in talent management, the session addressed the challenges in the talent pipeline and how finance departments can incorporate diverse hiring into their agenda.

Topics for discussion included:

  • How to Design for Diversity
  • Tapping into Diverse Pipelines
  • Retaining & Progressing Female Talent
  • Culture and Operational Change: How Does Gender Impact the Agenda?

Introduction by Colin Webster, CEO of The FISER Group

Colin Webster gave a short introduction by evaluating the impact and evolution of  Gender Diversity in Finance in the past two decades.  Talking about his time as a trainee at EY, Colin outlined how the  gender ratio on the Graduate Scheme was approximately 80%/20% male to female. In contrast, Colin is  currently the only male member sitting on the majority female Board of The FISER Group, 5 whose 6 internal shareholders are also female.

Presentation by Kirsty Pineger, Director, Bruin Financial

Bruin Financial is a running a range of Internal Diversity Initiatives as well as promoting the Diversity agenda with our clients. Bruin has recently won the “Recruiter of the Year” award at the 2018 Women in Finance Awards.

Why are firms struggling to attract enough women in functions such as Finance & Accounting?

Graduate Schemes

Firms are generally not attracting enough female candidates on their Graduate Schemes for technical or sales based roles such as Finance or Front Office. For example, M&G has adopted a range of effective strategies, including inviting female candidates for Assessment Days before assigning their applications to a certain area of the business. Results showed that women performed equally well to men, even in technical areas that traditionally attract a larger pool of male candidates.

Other effective strategies aimed at increasing Gender Diversity  included early targeting of female Graduates with non-technical degrees and often from non-Russell Group Universities

Investment20/20 is another initiative that addresses upcoming, diverse talent by supporting  apprenticeships for Graduates with grades of 2:2 or above and with Degrees that are not related to the Financial Services industry

Attracting and retaining Mid Career talent

A EY study showed that stigma associated to flexible working can be detrimental; 60% of women in Professional Services think that becoming a mother would affect their career

Successful strategies implemented by Financial Services firms include offering flexible working

arrangements, arranging Mentoring Schemes for Returners,  provision of Coaching for female employees returning to work after maternity breaks. Effective Flexible Working strategies include the possibility to work from home, variable working hours, wider availability of Unpaid Leave arrangements, etc.

Firms are encouraged to use Data Analytics to track indicators of their Diversity ratios as well as addressing unconscious bias during the interview process. Returners generally come with fresh ideas and challenge existing processes and practices. Firms should aim to encourage Returners to  pursue  new qualifications for and  offer more flexibility for candidates choosing to change career paths.

Job Specification Bias

Research from Harvard University has shown that language can have a positive or negative impact on the perception of a body of text such as  job spec, words such as “analytical” or “competitive” are Male biased and Female biased examples are “collaborative” or “responsible” – removing where possible these strongly biased words would seek to improve diversity of applicants. Additional research has shown that men who have 40% of the skills listed will apply whereas women seek to ensure they have at least 60% before making an application – shorter, clearer and less rigid job specs would have a positive impact on applications.

Bruin are due to launch a free to all online tool that will allow anyone to upload a job spec and receive a report on the coding bias of the text to provide an opportunity for heavily weighted specs to be balanced if possible


1. Flexible working arrangements are generally associated with female employees and this isn’t a “new mothers only” issue. How can firms address the prejudices and feelings of guilt associated to Flexible Working arrangements?

The subject of Flexible Working should be destigmatized and firms can adopt various strategies such as encouraging male employees to undertake flexible working arrangements when necessary in order to increase equality. Flexible working shouldn’t be exclusively associated to working mothers or being a parent – employees should be allowed to undertake flexible hours when necessary, without a “traditional” reason.

2. The area of Finance & Accounting is impacted by long working hours, especially during month-end processes with strict deadlines. How can this be addressed?

View from a Head of Product Control – Tier 2 Investment Bank –  “As any profession we are faced by deadlines, not only Financial Services, firms and employees alike need to work together to find suitable solutions. With the increase in of digital technology, employees can work from home in order to compensate for time taken off during the core working hours.”

Recruitment tactics and processes,  interview technique, candidates shortlist

Recruiters should not be reluctant to propose candidates that come after long career breaks, including Maternity Leave returners. A lot of candidates possess solid experience that can positively impact firms in the long run, even if they need additional training and time to adapt on short term.  Adopting a long term, macro view as opposed to a specific, team by team  micro view orientation could be an efficient strategy.

Hiring managers should increase the number of women that are requested for interviews. Firms already adopted strategies such as a making it compulsory for candidates shortlists to be gender diverse

Both of these points rely on active engagement of all stakeholders in the process, Managers, HR & Recruiters and any ability to highlight the skills of the candidate directly to the hiring manager would improve the chances of an applicant to avoid a diverse candidate being filtered out in the process due to not being “stable” on paper as opposed to other applicants and therefore never making it to the manager for consideration


Firms that have been successful in achieving a diverse senior management team have shown creativity and flexibility in their hiring approach to ensure that they can attract and retain senior women, the main cultural change has been to show that flexible working is available to all and not seen as a negative or something only requested or required by women.

To do this there requires male Executives to take a lead themselves with demonstrating flexible working, such as being vocal about such activities as doing the school run, being available for parents evening & pursuing personal hobbies such as sports or creative arts that require leaving the office at a reasonable time. This leadership ensures it is seen as the norm to achieve a work – life balance and those who have fixed commitments do not feel disenfranchised or guilty about taking up the flexibility.

The main point mentioned from attendees was the fact it is a two way street with a need for management to give trust and employees not to abuse it, as with all things there will be occasions where that trust is broken but with effective management policies in place this can be dealt with without impacting the majority who use it in the right spirit.