What is it REALLY like to be a woman in bridging finance?


women in bridging

Let’s be real. Bridging finance is male dominated. We see this at events, on news sites and especially the “our team” page on company websites.

However, it’s almost impossible to get any hard figures on the true disparity.

The bridging sector is a largely unregulated area of finance, usually providing short-term loans for properties.

While this area of alternative finance is growing year-on-year, it does not generally have the same gender pay gap scrutiny or reporting obligations as other areas of finance, which may explain why finding data is more difficult.

The lives of women in bridging finance are under-researched and left largely untouched by academics.

As a financial journalist, the lack of hard facts is frustrating. More importantly though, it reveals a telling lack of attention from the industry.

How many bridging firms post out International Womens’ Day content, but neglect to fund any real research into the self-fulfilling problems that come with systemic gender bias?

It’s time we gathered some statistics on the true experiences of women in the bridging finance world. How are they affected day to day? What adaptions do they need to make to thrive? And what do they really feel when they can speak freely and anonymously?

To find out, a sample of twenty women in bridging finance agreed to take part in a brutally honest survey. What emerged is that this is a seriously tough group.

Although they are prepared and experienced at fighting uphill gender battles, they are not afraid to leave toxic firms that treat them badly… As most already have.

The headline statistics from this survey reveal:


  • 100% of participants think the bridging loan industry is male dominated
  • 95% feel the bridging industry culture needs to improve
  • 90% have had to fight to be heard
  • 80% have endured gender-labelling
  • 70% have experienced comments about their physical appearance
  • 65% have been the subject of an insulting gender-based “joke”
  • 60% have been expected to do certain roles because they are women
  • 50% of mothers have faced criticism that they will not be able to do their job


Finding 1: The bridging loan industry is perceived by women as male-dominated

All twenty of the women interviewed feel that there are more men than women in the bridging loan industry, with three quarters finding there are “a lot more”. As one respondent commented, “Events are still terribly male dominated, I don’t feel comfortable”.

Chart 1

However, when it came to their current firm, the ratio was a more balanced. Just two in five responded that there were some or a lot more men than women. While nearly half (45%) felt that the proportion was about equal.

“Big Boys Finance Club”

The phrase “boys club” came up a lot, 20% of the women surveyed organically used these words to describe the industry. As one respondent put it, she’d like to see an end of the “big boys finance club”.

Many respondents pointed out that it wasn’t just the proportion of men to women that was problematic, but the culture that came with it. “There’s a boys club at the top where I work”, commented one participant. “They don’t seem to recognise that having a WhatsApp group that is to discuss ‘football’, or ‘cars’ warrants excluding females – there’s definitely still conversations that happen about the business in this WhatsApp group or even at the events they attend”.

This was a fairly common theme, affecting several participants. Another issue was that several women reported being excluded from attending sporting events like golf days. While one participant wrote that the men in her previous company went off together to strip clubs.

Finding 2: Women leave male-dominated firms over time

In this survey, none of the thirteen respondents with more than five years’ experience worked in strongly male-dominated firms anymore. Ten of them (78%) reported that the balance between men and women was equal in their current company. By contrast, women with less experience had mix of answers, with no conclusive direction.

Undiversified firms could be missing out on valuable experience and expertise. The data suggests that women who have been working in the industry for longer tend to leave firms which are not sufficiently diversified.

This was further reinforced by the comments. At least three of the women revealed that they left a workplace directly because of the toxic culture. “Unfortunately nothing I could say would change the toxic environment of ‘boys club'”, one revealed.

Finding 3: Fighting to be heard is the greatest barrier for women in bridging finance

Nine in ten of all the respondents reported that they have had to fight to be heard in the industry, with 40% saying it happened “often”. This includes (but is not limited to) men talking over them in meetings, not taking their ideas seriously, or asking to speak to a manager, when the woman is the manager.

One respondent gave a day-to-day example of this. She explained how even though she is a co-founder and holds a senior position, she’s often introduced as the “boss’s wife”.

Chart 2

When asked about their current firms (of which 45% are gender balanced), none of the respondents said they fight to be heard “often”.

Although 60% admitted that they still experience this from time to time. “Sadly, very sadly, I have become accustomed to it”, commented one respondent. “I have developed my own voice, a solid reputation and am not afraid to be heard and call people out on it now”. The responses suggest that women who have stayed in the industry persevered against the silencing, pushing themselves to speak up and over men when needed.

Finding 4: Gender-labelling is the second most common issue for women in bridging finance

Just one in five of the women surveyed have never experienced gender labelling in the bridging finance industry. Examples of this would be calling a woman “bossy” instead of “assertive”, or “emotional” instead of “invested”.

Chart 3

Over time, this can have a significant effect on the way a person is perceived and perceive themselves in a workplace. When it comes to performance reviews for example, a man who is “assertive and invested in the project” might get promoted over a “bossy and emotional” woman. Although it is often subconscious, it can reinforce toxic gender pay gaps and sexist cultures within firms.

When asked about their current workplace, over half (55%) have never experienced gender labelling. Notably, gender labelling is strikingly more prevalent within male-dominated firms.

Finding 5: Seven in ten women endure comments from male colleagues about their appearance

Comments about a woman’s make up, clothing, attractiveness or general appearance are common in the bridging loan industry. 70% of respondents experienced this at least once (although the number may be higher, as one did not answer).  For a quarter of respondents, this occurs “often”. One respondent revealed she even quit her previous bridging firm “for this reason”.

chart 4

A quarter of the women had seen women’s looks used as commodities within bridging firms. As one respondent put it, she sees lenders “rolling in an attractive woman to participate in meetings where perhaps not needed, more like decoration”. While another commented, “I was always asked to join events/socials/meetings over men I suspect as ‘eye candy”.

Going even further than making unwanted remarks about women’s looks, some respondents highlighted inappropriate behaviour towards woman remains an issue in the industry. “Sexual harassment is still prevalent, especially as a young, female salesperson”, one commented.

Thinking about their current firm (45% of which have a balance of men and women), the results were more reassuring. Half of the respondents have never experienced comments about their personal appearance in their current workplace environment.

However, around 40% still do get comments from male coworkers from time to time.  The women most likely to get these comments are between 30 and 50 years old and have been working in the industry for at least five years.

Finding 6: Two thirds of women have endured gender-based “jokes” in the workplace

The majority (65%) of women in the survey have been the subject of a gender-based insult masquerading as a joke, for 20% it happened “often”. Examples of this could be implying that a women got a role because of her looks, not her work. Or that she shouldn’t try to operate a machine in case she breaks a fingernail.

One participant implied that this was part of the reason why she chose to leave her previous employment. Another chose not to answer, and so the true figure could be higher than 65%.

chart 5

These “jokes” can create uncomfortable environments for women in bridging industries, piling on additional pressure which men do not have. One respondent commented that she feels, “in the spotlight”. Adding, “People are watching your every move, and you feel often as if you are on stage”.

When asked about whether gender-based “jokes” occurred in their current company, the majority (60%) revealed that they never happened. While 20% reported that they happened just “once or twice”. 15% found that they happen “sometimes” or “often”. The remaining 5% preferred not to say.

Finding 7: Gender stereotypes have affected three in five women in bridging finance

Expecting somebody to fulfil a role because of their gender is fairly commonplace in bridging finance, with 60% of respondents experiencing this at least once. For example, a woman might be expected to answer the phone more often, make coffee or take on administrative work. A quarter revealed these incidents happened “often”.

Being expected to make coffee was brought up by three participants. As one respondent put it, “100%. I am the assumed meeter and greeter to make coffee etc”. While another commented, “typically I have seen women get asked to be on exhibition stands or get the teas and coffees”. A simple way for bridging firms to undo some of these issues could be to have a coffee rota. Small habits like this could help to create lasting cultural improvements.

There are many reasons why gender stereotyping is a toxic practice. Over time, it can give men an unfair advantage to get their work done without interruptions, reduce the self-confidence of women and place an unfair added burden on female staff. It also reinforces the already significant 16% gender pay gap.

Chart 6

Reflecting on their current bridging firm (of which 45% were gender-balanced), more than two-thirds revealed that they had never experienced any gender-stereotyping. However, for 26% it still happens sometimes. While for 10.5%, gender stereotyping has occured once or twice.

Finding 8: Mixed workplace reactions to motherhood

Twelve of the participants in the survey are parents. They shared how motherhood affected their careers in bridging finance. The experiences were mixed. While half have never faced assumptions that they will no longer be able to do their job, the other half had suffered at least some criticism. For a quarter of mothers, these assumptions came “often”.

Disturbingly, one respondent explained how she had experienced, “being told that mothers shouldn’t work, being told that I was of childbearing age and therefore that could be an issue”, during her bridging finance career.

chart 7

Within their current firms, the picture is much clearer. While one declined to answer, just 10% of the mothers faced any assumptions that they will not be able to do their job.

As well as having to prove that they can still do a good job, some mothers reported other workplace frustrations. “I’ve never taken a maternity leave but it has been assumed I have”, revealed one participant. “… As much as that in part infuriates me, I also use it to fuel me”.

Finding 9: Industry change is needed, according to 95% of participants

Notably, one respondent fiercely advocated the sector, with comments such as, “Any limitations are imposed by myself to suit my preferences or wants, not by the industry”.

However, the remaining 19 seemed broadly in agreement that the bridging finance culture needs to change. “It can be horrible at times, I would never want my kids to do it”, revealed one woman in bridging. Another commented, “Men seem to get ahead whilst women are expected to be more ballsy or the opposite and play the ‘damsel in distress’ role”.

But there is some good news. Reassuringly, most women do feel that the culture is improving, albeit slowly. Bridging is “not for the faint hearted, but so much better than it used to be”, elaborated one respondent. “I have noticed positive changes and feel we are on the right path as there has been a significant increase in females within the industry and in senior positions”, explained another.

Industry events have the most room for improvement

Participants generally agreed that the culture improvement goes downhill when it comes to bridging finance events*. “There’s definitely some bad behaviours which show particularly at events such as award ceremonies etc where people feel they can act and say whatever they like with the help of ‘Dutch courage’”, said one participant.

Event organisers have a part to play here. They can ensure that the guestlists are gender-balanced and inclusive, they can provide more food and water to soak up the alcohol, and they can keep a check on lewd behaviour. Asking for honest feedback is also a valuable way to foster change.

One participant in this study even made a direct request to event organisers. “Can all awards events switch to daytime please?”, she asked. “Whilst the men like to drink the night away most of us women would prefer to do work things during work time…. so that our personal lives are not impacted”.

Anonymous words of advice to younger women entering the bridging loan industry

This aim of this survey is shed a light on the true experiences of women in the bridging loan industry. And, in the spirit of this, I asked them to share words of advice with the next generation of women entering bridging finance.

Here are a handful of responses:

  • “Be bold, be brave and speak up when you need to!”
  • “Don’t let anyone intimidate you. Learn from feedback but know some people will always try to throw authority around.
  • “Find women in senior positions to mentor you”.
  • “Believe in yourself”
  • “Be bold, speak up and have that extra confidence to be heard”

 Thank you to everyone who took part in this survey

*Speaking personally, when I went to report at a bridging finance event a couple of years ago, I was very shocked myself at the behaviour of two drunk men leering at me as soon as I walked in. They were sweaty, almost falling off their chairs, and clearly making sexual jokes about me. Throughout the night, I also noticed more of this behaviour building and decided to leave early.

Having spent six years in wealth management myself, inappropriate advances from men in finance are not exactly new for me. However, this was far worse than any other finance or fintech party I’ve ever been to. The feeling I left with that night actually inspired this whole study.