Driving Gender Diversity Through The Financial Services Sector

Blog from Ann Allcock - Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity Diversity Advisor

At the SWIFT Business Forum  held at the Brewery near Moorgate recently, I attended a seminar where a number of panellists gave us an insight into their personal journeys and experiences of gender diversity, as a backdrop to the launch of two new reports. 

The panel was made up of Mustafa Ozbilgin, Professor of Organisational Development at Brunel University Business School.  Clare Flynn-Levy of Essentia Analytics, Alexa Bailey, Harvey Nash Executive Search, Sahar Hashemi, Coffee Republic and Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management and the Chair of Opportunity Now. 

Prof Ozbilgin spoke about the deficit model, and how men have built the financial services sector to fit their own needs.  He set out a number of challenges for us to consider, including  how to balance leaders who are able to build diversity, and our need for diverse leaders, and the importance of a vision for diversity that is broader than white, middle class women.  He set out the tragedy of the consequences of individualism and self-promotion, and the collapse of collective responsibility and the common good, and his happy ending – a moral agenda including a commitment to human rights. 

There was a debate among the panel about to what extent women should self-promote, find creative solutions and ‘lean in’, without expecting men to change the structures.  Helena Morrissey talked about the game that women must play and the tightrope they must walk between being victims and taking charge, and the challenge of remaining authentic while fitting in.

The two reports launched were Gender Diversity in the Financial Services Sector, by the Financial Services Knowledge Transfer Network.  This report sets out a business case for gender diversity: – increasing talent pool, saving money on recruitment by decreasing turnover, better decision making, meeting customer needs, opening new markets.  It includes an exposition of some of the barriers to diversity, and some of the interventions that work in tackling them. 

The second report was called The Balancing Act – a study of how to balance the talent pipeline in business, produced by Harvey Nash Executive Search.  This is a survey of 600 exec level directors, CEOs, NEDs and senior business leaders.  The researchers found that male dominated corporate culture is biggest barrier to women reaching the board, and the responses revealed a desire to preserve the status quo by male boards who saw no need to change.  Responding to a question from the floor on where there is greatest inertia within organisations, Helena Morrissey said that in her experience progress is less robust in the middle rungs; there is evidence of change afoot in the boardroom and at entry level young people have higher expectations of an inclusive culture.

A useful event, giving a sense of the challenge we face in driving gender diversity through the financial services sector.