For years, I second-guessed myself. I had everything it took to be successful in mergers and acquisitions (M&A): knowledge, skill, competence, passion, and motivation. Yet one thing set me apart from my peers: I was a woman.
I would enter a boardroom and immediately feel singled out. People didn’t listen to me the same way they did my male colleagues. The faces I saw rarely looked like mine—young, female—and when they did, they were not the faces of senior executives. There were social groups that felt a lot like boys’ clubs, whose entrances were guarded by men who never left their gateposts. Unlike their female colleagues, they didn’t go on parental leave.
Eventually, after building multiple successful businesses, it dawned on me that I knew what I was doing. Why, in 2022, is the financial industry still dominated by men?
The She-Wolf Of Wall Street?
Don’t get me wrong: Women have made strides. More women are being promoted to senior roles in finance. In 2021, Jane Fraser became the first woman to lead a major Wall Street bank. That same year, Morgan Stanley promoted a woman from the head of investor relations to CFO.
However, the European Banking Authority reports that women made up only 20% of positions within management groups at Europe’s largest banks and 8% of CEOs at European credit and investment institutions.
Research by Deloitte in 2019 found that at the current rate of change, financial services firms might not achieve gender equality in leadership positions until 2085. That is unacceptable. It also explains why some women who make it to the top in finance credit their success not to their own skill but to being comfortable in a masculine environment. Here’s how financial industry leaders can change that and move the dial toward women’s equality.
Get Creative With Reward Programs
Men can rise to the top fairly easily in traditional finance, while women need to find disruptive niches—such as M&A for digital agencies, in my case—to succeed. To get women into the mainstream, we need to reform our rewards system.
Start by restructuring your bonus packages so they’re based on team performance instead of individual accomplishments. Next, assess how to stretch assignments are being allocated and make sure they’re going to women, too.
Leave no stone unturned in your quest for equality.
Prioritise Emotional Intelligence
Data shows there are enough qualified women to fill existing leadership positions, but gender bias may be keeping those roles out of reach for women. To change this systemic inequality, we need to put a premium on emotional intelligence for leaders.
Redesign Your Recruitment
Equality starts before you hire. When you post a job opening, make sure the description doesn’t inadvertently deter women. Look also at your language. Words that are traditionally associated with one gender can discourage candidates of the opposite gender from applying.
Also, if your firm has a hiring panel, it should be gender diverse, too. And make sure that when employees leave, you do an exit interview to get their feedback on how gender diverse they perceive your organisation to be.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
This should be obvious: Make sure the women in your firm have the same earning power as the men. We can’t create gender equality without closing the pay gap.
If you’re addressing this systematically for the first time, start with a salary audit that includes your employees’ positions, experience, education and performance to help you root out gender bias.
Found gaps? Close them, pronto.
Gender Equality Starts At The Top
Change starts at the top of a company. For leaders, that means being intentional about promoting workplace gender equality:
• Foster a gender-equal company culture where all employees feel respected and valued.
• Mentor everyone, regardless of gender. Make sure you are developing your female staffers.
• Have a maternity and paternity leave policy.
• Also offer programs to help employees transition back to work after parental leave.
• Offer workplace flexibility to help working parents balance family with a career.
We need to value working mothers. We have to be mindful of these employees’ challenges and take care of their needs.
Women have made strides, but to achieve gender equality in finance, we still have a long way to go. The pandemic has set women back further, destroying decades of progress.
The good news is we can fix this problem. If we want to have access to the best talent for our firms, including young women who are just getting started, we have to act now to advance equality. It’s up to us to create equal representation and inclusion for all future leaders—be it on Wall Street, in fintech or in agency M&A and beyond.
I look forward to the day when gender will no longer be an obstacle to success in finance. But I’m not waiting for that day to arrive.
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