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Addressing gender equality issues in Finance

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In a world that’s fighting so hard for gender equality, why is the finance industry still lagging behind? Reports show that the gender pay gap is still significant and not closing as fast as in other sectors, despite some high-profile headlines of positive steps being taken. Accountancy professionals in practice and industry are still suffering from a gap above the national average, with the prevailing reason behind the disparity down to the much higher proportion of men than women in senior roles, rather than an issue of ‘equal pay’.

A year ago, the 20 biggest accountancy firms in the UK all had a gender pay gap that widened as the professional level increased, and even though the latest figures show that some of the major players have reduced the gap, there are still few female partners and the bonus gap may now be rising. For finance professionals in industry, while there are marginal differences between sectors, the lack of women in senior finance roles is still apparent. Much of this comes down to culture – sadly stemming from a time where the world of commerce was a male concern only – where women continue to face stereotypes, sexual comments, presenteeism (where performance is judged by visibility rather than output) and of course, the motherhood penalty. One of the biggest challenges lies in changing the stereotypes, assumptions and biases about what is required for leadership. So, what is being done?

Finance has much work to do to close the gender pay gap and ensure that women have the same career opportunities as their male counterparts. Shining a light on issues like the gender pay gap and whether firms are imposing, and meeting targets is the only way that diversity is going to get pushed up the priority lists of boards. From the 6th of April 2017, employers with more than 250 staff were required, by law, to publish the following information in the interests of transparency:

  • Gender pay gap (mean and median averages)
  • Gender bonus gap (mean and median averages)
  • Proportion of men and women receiving bonuses
  • Proportion of men and women in each quartile of the organisation’s pay structure

The 30% Club was also launched back in 2010, setting out to achieve a minimum of 30% women in the FTSE-350 boards and many employers have finally got around to banning all-male shortlists as a positive step forward, as well as initiating mentorship schemes that have been roundly agreed to help women up the ladder. 

However, one problem may need to be addressed at an earlier stage in the recruitment process. A recent study found that job adverts for very senior roles tended to have a male bias in the language used, subliminally reinforcing the glass ceiling. Words such as “go-getter,” “ambitious,” “driven,” “competitive,” “fearless,” “dynamic” and “leader” are associated with strongly male-dominated leadership roles and actively deter women from applying. Ads needs to be more gender-neutral and inclusive, using wording that appeals to female as well as male applicants, such as “catalyst,” “guide,” “grow,” “encourage” and “create”. If we start to view leadership as a hands-on, supportive, nurturing process, rather than a controlling position, then more women will apply.

If women have a green light and are encouraged to apply for senior roles, then surely, it’s only a matter of time before the numbers balance out?