Equal opportunities?

The UK’s financial services sector is far more accepting of women than it was 25 years ago, but there is still a long way to go before gender equality is achieved – as our look at the past, present and future reveals

The pastWhen Amanda Lewis Ogden joined Harrogate-based Cawood Smithie as a stockbroker in 1990, she was the first woman the company had ever employed in such a role. In an article for the Review print edition, written five years later, she said the attitude of fellow professionals and clients to female stockbrokers at the time was summed up in a remark she had once overheard: “I didn’t know they allowed women to be stockbrokers.”

The remark reflected a financial services area that has traditionally been more male-dominated than sectors such as advertising and marketing. Just two years before the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975, there were no women at all among the 4,000 stockbrokers and traders on the London Stock Exchange.

Following the Act, there were plenty of men who welcomed women into the industry and were fully supportive of their efforts to establish themselves. However, one woman who joined the Exchange around that time told historian David Kynaston: “I was the Night Nurse. There was Sweaty Betty, Super Bum … They were very cruel … You had to have broad shoulders and a good sense of humour because you would be the [target] of a lot of jokes.”

By 1985, the Exchange had 52 female brokers and traders. One of them was Elizabeth Sullivan. In a BBC documentary made that year, The City: A Woman’s Place, she said of her male colleagues: “We used to walk onto the floor and go up and ask for a price and they’d congregate behind you as though you were from Mars, and they’d stand there watching you and crowd round just looking at you and wait for you to make a mistake and they’d jeer and laugh.”

The presentThirty years on from that documentary, in an era of inclusivity managers, diversity consultants and bodies such as the Interbank Diversity Forum, it’s tempting to think that such outdated attitudes are a thing of the past. And yet Gwen Rhys, CEO of Women in the City – an organisation that promotes female talent and runs an annual Woman of Achievement Award – says that she still hears tales of female executives being greeted with comments along the lines of: “I’m glad we have something pretty to look at today.”

Nevertheless, over the past decade the UK’s financial services industry has come a long way in its efforts to eradicate such prejudice and achieve gender parity in London’s Square Mile and beyond – not least because stockbrokers have grasped that as the client base grows more diverse, it is the firms that mirror that development that will prosper.
"I have had many female clients say they were looking for a female investment manager"Dr Sarah Rutherford, a diversity consultant at Rutherford Associates, estimates that City firms employed no ‘diversity professionals’ at all at the turn of the millennium, but within five years or so there were at least 100. And that figure will have grown considerably since then.

Rhys reckons that, increasingly, diversity – and not just gender diversity – is the norm rather than the exception. “More people recognise that diversity brings a breadth and depth to decision-making and, as more women reach senior positions, they expect to see other women at the table,” she says.

Michelle Parkin, Investment Manager at stockbroker Redmayne-Bentley, has certainly noticed this trend. When she joined the firm in 1996, she would sometimes find herself the only woman in the room at industry events and dinners, but these days that almost never happens.

Part of this change, she believes, is down to client demand. “There are certainly more female clients out there looking for a woman to manage their affairs,” she says. “Many of these clients may have lost their husbands and have had little involvement in their financial affairs.”

She adds: “I have had many female clients say they were looking for a female investment manager, because previous advisers had been patronising or condescending of their lack of understanding. I am not by any means putting all males in that category as I work with some of the kindest and most empathetic of men. However, I have heard this complaint on numerous occasions – so they must be out there.”

The futureA great example of the benefits a diverse workforce can bring to financial services firms is Barbara-Ann King, one of the UK’s most successful female stockbrokers of recent years, and became the only woman to have a seat on the Barclays Stockbrokers Executive Committee as its Chief Investment Officer.

King, who left Barclays in 2013, told one interviewer: “I got that through sheer performance and hard work, but I am very appreciative that I have a supportive group of peers and a boss who believes that having a woman on board balances the dynamic. Our overall management ethos values differences and balance as a critical part of our success.”

Yet despite the benefits a diverse boardroom can bring, gender parity in financial services is still some way off – as is the case in most industries worldwide. In its Global gender gap report 2014, The World Economic Forum estimated that it will take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity in the workplace.

A look around the offices of financial services firms nationwide would show, however, that women have made great strides towards achieving parity with men in the sector over the past 30 years. The type of response that Amanda Lewis Ogden encountered as a female stockbroker 20 years ago should soon be a thing of the past.

Equality in numbers
The positive

The 30% Club, launched in 2010 with a goal of achieving 30% women on FTSE 100 boards by the end of 2015, has achieved 25.4% to date – up from 12.5%.

For the first time ever, there are more women applying for professional and financial services jobs than men, according to a recent report by Randstad Financial & Professional.

Family businesses worldwide are setting the pace for gender parity, with 70% considering a woman for their next CEO, according to a joint study by EY and Kennesaw State University.

The negative

Just over a third of female millennials in financial services recently surveyed by PwC feel they can rise to senior levels within their current organisation – less than half the proportion of men surveyed.

A fifth of female fund staff said they had suffered sexual harassment at work, while a third had experienced sexist behaviour on a weekly or monthly basis, found FTfm’s 2014 Women in Asset Management survey.

Just over a tenth of women in financial services said they had suffered sexual harassment at work in the past three years, according to a report last year from diversity campaign, Opportunity Now.

The original version of this article was published in the September 2015 print edition of the Review.
Published: 25 Sep 2015
  • Wealth Management
  • The Review
  • Features
  • Stockbroking
  • People
  • gender imbalance
  • Finance

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