Gender Diversity: Insight Series

Bruin began to analyse gender focused recruitment market trends in 2014 with the publication of the Bruin WiFI Index, a regular report capturing the representation and engagement of women in financial institutions. At the time, gender was widely seen as a relatively niche side issue for the industry and entirely the focus of HR or D&I professionals. Five years on, gender diversity is not only firmly on the board room agenda, but has been the catalyst for other diversity discussions. According to a recent survey conducted by think-tank New Financial, more than 80% of institutions signed up to the Women in Finance Charter said it had spurred them to focus on improving diversity in other areas, including of LGBT+ workers.

The Chartered Institute of Insurers also noted that “gender pay gap reporting has started discussions on the broader subject of equality in business” and have highlighted the need for improved values and behaviours; which comes as The Bank of England sent out a recent warning demanding that insurers improve workplace culture following a spate of sexual harassment revelations.

The FCA have focused their attentions in a similar way and their latest business plan illustrates the priority it attaches to firms’ culture as “pivotal” to building public trust and confidence in UK financial services. The SMCR also plays a key role in ensuring that senior executives are directly accountable for functions which fall under their responsibility and are ‘fit and proper’. In fact, the FCA has gone so far as to confirm that they
consider non-financial misconduct (including sexual harassment and discrimination) to impact on the fitness and propriety of senior managers.
What is becoming clear is that in financial services the under representation of women in senior positions is increasingly viewed as a symptom of
broader organisational problems. Many of which seem to have common root causes, including an ‘alpha’ culture, narrow criteria for advancement, outdated leadership models, opaque bonus criteria, inflexible working practices, and bias in recruitment and talent management processes.

And as a result, it is the firms approaching gender balance as a business issue, rather than an HR issue, that are making gains in the war for talent.

Achieving balance begins by looking at the representation of women at every stage of the talent pipeline and how it compare to the total organisational structure. By harnessing a data driven approach organisations are far more likely to be able to pinpoint where breakdowns are occurring in the system, and Bruin has designed a number of tools to assist our clients in addressing potential issues and creating a sustainable talent pipeline.

This includes our Gender Bias Decoder which reveals language bias associated with job descriptions to assess if it might discourage female candidates. For subsequent stages Bruin has developed a series of bespoke training workshops, focusing on the common barriers organisations face when hiring diverse candidates, ranging from attraction strategies, to overcoming the effects of unconscious bias in succession planning and innovative support for returners. But financial services firms need to be just as innovative if they are to attract and retain women.

And providing men and women equal access to frameworks for better work-life balance can be one of the most effective strategies. In asset management, a cross company pilot scheme for flexible working has just been launched by the Diversity Project’s SMART Working committee, and includes founding partners Axa IM, Fidelity, and AON, with the aim of providing best practice guidelines for the industry.

Shared parental leave and a strong paternity package is also essential to creating equality in the workplace and is championed by the Investment
Association as a key measure which would help narrow a gulf in remuneration between male and female workers in the asset management industry. Leading the charge is Standard Life Aberdeen who recently announced nine months of fully paid leave for parents of all genders, regardless of the benefits another caregiver receives. Jupiter, Aviva and Columbia Threadneedle have also recently rolled out enhanced paternity pay and Goldman Sachs has increased parental leave to 20 weeks for all new parents through birth, surrogacy or adoption – regardless of caregiver status.

Many financial services firms have now recognised the critical role that flexible working and enhanced or shared parental leave has to play in
retention, culture and career progression. But this has to go hand in hand with a working environment that enables employees to take them up. So policies need to be part of a broader strategy to tackle a culture of presenteeism that is deterring women, and men, from joining the industry, returning after a career break, balancing their career after a significant life event, and from progressing to senior positions.

To achieve this the industry needs to move on from the perception that these are just a veiled tool to provide ‘special treatment’ to women. Transparency in recruitment, pay and promotion, alongside flexible working programs and shared parental leave benefit everyone, not just women

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