True gender diversity is lacking in the financial services sector especially at senior management level. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

New report offers academic insight to improve gender equality in the financial services sector

True gender diversity is lacking in the financial services sector especially at senior management level.

To address this imbalance a report, published by the University of Exeter and the Financial Services Knowledge Transfer Network (FS KTN), considers the introduction of interventions including gender quotas and regulation, flexible working and improved networking to overcome the multiple barriers to gender equality.

Professor Michelle Ryan from Psychology at the University of Exeter said: “Although the financial services sector has a high proportion of women employees and customers, the question of why women are not better represented in leadership roles has, until now, remained largely unanswered. This report draws on the experiences of staff in the industry and on academic research to reveal the multiple sources of barriers to gender equality.”

The report identifies a business case for gender diversity in the sector. Benefits for business include a larger talent pool; cost savings on recruitment and training by decreasing staff turnover; improved decision making; improved ways to meet the diverse needs of customers and new routes to client markets.

However there are a number of barriers to diversity, identified by academic research and described in more detail by industry practitioners, which need to be addressed before the benefits of improved gender equality can be felt. The barriers include issues of work-life balance; a lack of role models and mentors; stereotypes and unconscious bias; assumptions of innate gender differences and fear of not fitting in.

The report, which includes case studies from Credit Suisse and UBS, recommends that companies respond to such obstacles with a range of initiatives to help address the gender imbalance. These include offering leadership or diversity training, changing organisational culture and tackling wide-spread stereotypes as well as introducing flexible working and improved networking. The report recognises that a combined approach is likely to be more successful than applying measures in isolation.

The report emphasises that changing business culture requires action, not just words or good intentions. The FS KTN offers financial services companies the opportunity to work with academics so that action is based on a firm foundation of rigorous research. 

Download the report.

Date: 5 March 2013

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