Despite talking a good game, financial services is making slow progress on gender


James Staunton Air Cover PR

While our unelected head of state is now a man, Liz Truss has become the country’s third female prime minister, something of which Britain can feel justly proud.

In the UK, the top political table is now dominated by women from Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister for Scotland, deputy PM Dr Thérèse Coffey, and Baroness Evans of Bowes Park to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Baroness Smith of Basildon, and Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill.

But this doesn’t mean gender discrimination is a thing of the past, certainly not in financial services.

European banks are making slow progress on gender diversity, with women in just over a quarter of executive roles and 37 per cent of board seats last year, compared with 20 and 35 per cent respectively in 2020.

Research by DBRS Morningstar, based on data from 43 banks across Europe and the UK, suggested management positions and positions of executive decision making continue to show higher participation by men.

Just five banks — including NatWest, Nationwide, and Bank of Ireland — had female chief executives in 2021.  Only four had a female chair.  Across the entire sample of banks, only 26 per cent of executive roles were held by women.

UK Finance said that the banking and finance industry was “committed to taking action to ensure our workforce reflects the customers, colleagues and communities that we serve and it is positive to see the increase of female representation in senior roles in the sector”.  Well they might. Something needs to change.

In the wider workforce, almost a third of women in the UK say sexual harassment has had an impact on their career, according to recruiter Randstad UK.  And two-thirds of women (67 per cent) report they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace in some form.

This was most likely to come in the form of comments or inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues — although being passed over for a promotion was also a common form of gender discrimination.  As the UK boss of Randstad put it: “The word ‘banter’ has a lot to answer for.”

The recent release of Bully Market, outlining one New Yorker’s terrible treatment while working at Goldman Sachs demonstrates Wall Street is a particularly inhospitable place for many women.

It outlines how she felt as if she would pass out after confronting a subordinate having an affair with a client who wrapped his hand under her jaw, pinned her against a wall and screamed, “If I could, I’d rip your fucking face off.”

She stopped using the bank’s lactation rooms after a boss said she would never make managing director if she was pumping milk instead of working.

When she went ahead anyway after having another baby, male colleagues moaned “Moooo” and pretended to squeeze their breasts as she headed to the lactation centre. One day she got back to find a toy cow on her desk.

She passed out at work, having gone back earlier than her doctor advised after a miscarriage – because a manager said the office was short staffed and when his wife had a miscarriage “she was fine after a few days”.

This from a bank that claims to have “a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or retaliation against employees reporting misconduct”.

So, yes, there might be a bit less organisational bias against women at the apex of political power.  And that’s a good thing.  But outside of the cabinet, it’s still a different story.

From a communications perspective, the lesson for bridging lenders is that actions and words both have value.  It’s when the two don’t align that value is lost.