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Ensuring female representation in the finance industry

Recent findings from the FTSE 100 discovered that only 9 female CEOs make up the list. While the picture looks more promising in senior management boards of wider firms, the positive progress in encouraging females to join the industry has stalled.

 

In 2021, the number of women in the sector remained at 33% when compared with the previous year. Clearly, females continue to face challenges in trying to enter the world of finance and work their way up into senior management roles.

With change very much still required, how can businesses take action to bring greater female representation to the forefront? Leaders should explore the three following core areas: analysing organisational culture and where it can change, policy introductions to encourage that change and the strategies in place to both support women in their careers and celebrate their achievements.

 

Making changes at the cultural level

While a number of businesses have made efforts to improve inclusivity in recent years, there’s still work to be done. We’ve come a long way from the days of high heels being required as part of the standard dress code for women, but many modern workplaces continue to be male dominated, or are considered to be so. The more common that preconception is, the more that women are put off from applying for roles in the first place, and then the talent pool fails to grow.

Organisations must keep an open mind when looking for new staff from within and externally. Companies should show a willingness to take on new talent, no matter the candidate’s gender, and have robust systems in place to minimise inequity and bias. A culture of open communication with employees is critical to achieving this. Any concerns being reported should be kept confidential and free of repercussions.

If more women in positions of authority enter the workplace, then it becomes normal for younger women to feel more comfortable in those environments. This then helps to dispel the myth that finance and tech are industries with jobs reserved only for men. Opportunities need to be created on both sides, which will help to change perceptions at a cultural level.

The tangible policy implementations

To drive cultural change, organisations can implement a range of procedures and policies. For example, many women want to become parents and they need to feel that they have the freedom to take the time they need before returning to work. More businesses are now offering enhanced maternity leave and pay, rather than the statutory requirement.

Companies started to think in a more pragmatic way during the pandemic, which started to reshape business practices and culture. Leaders knew that they had to implement hybrid and remote working practices to keep their best people. Now, more are adopting the same mindset and implementing flexible working policies to retain their top performers, regardless of their gender.

Beyond improving career opportunities for women, effective policy implementations can help drive inclusivity in other ways across the whole business. For example, enhanced maternity, paternity and adoption pay and time off for fertility treatment are all key considerations for business leaders to support their staff. Managers should also be communicating with employees around women and men’s health, gender expression and topics around LGBTQIA+. It’s important that leadership teams take diversity training on a regular basis to ensure that an inclusive culture is maintained, with updates fed back to the wider business.

Providing encouragement to women

Another implementation that organisations can bring in are mentors. Influential leaders can have a positive impact on the career aspirations of employees. The reason that a mentoring culture is so impactful is that it gives people the opportunity to benefit from a one-on-one relationship. It’s also a safe space for them to confide in someone about their challenges, whether that be work-related or in their private life.

With encouragement from experienced colleagues, employees can overcome a range of challenges. For example, women needing to gain confidence in a male-dominant boardroom can benefit from mentoring to learn to hold their own in those types of environments. Personal and professional development is so important, which is why another avenue that businesses should consider is enrolling women onto higher education courses to enhance their skills in business and leadership. This also gives them the confidence to pursue promotion opportunities and move into leadership roles.

Further to raising awareness of women in the tech industry is promoting the achievements of successful female leaders and helping to break down established stereotypes. A great way of doing this is by putting women forward for industry awards. Recognition at such events can demonstrate the immense value that females can bring to the finance sector and the tech industry as a whole.

Steady progress towards equal opportunities

With the eradication of legacy ideas about women in the finance and technology industry, the more common it will then become for females to be leaders in their organisations. Even more critically, young women may be encouraged to take on technology-based hobbies and therefore decide that they want to pursue a career in the field later on down the line. This pipeline of talent will further normalise the presence of women in the industry.

There’s a lot of work to still do, but there appears to be bright future ahead. We are now witnessing more female candidates on our applications for job listings. This is helping to add female voices to the male voices in the business. The same is also applying at senior management level, with the talent pool becoming wider and more diverse. Organisations are increasingly able to take a well-balanced perspective to recruitment and navigate challenges.

To ensure that progress doesn’t come to a standstill at any point, an inclusive and open culture needs to be continually encouraged. Relevant policies and procedures can help drive equality, and mentoring can encourage women to take those next steps in their careers. Lastly, celebrating the success of female leaders can be achieved by placing them at front-of-centre of industry awards.

- Samantha Jackson, Chief Finance Officer at Apogee Corporation

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