At a recent Chartered Banker Institute event, financial services professionals gathered at PwC’s Embankment office in London to hear a panel discussion on diversity, pay and inclusion in banking. Phillippa O’Connor, a partner in PwC’s Human Resources Services group, opened the debate by reminding delegates of some important milestones reached by financial services in achieving gender balance.
Two years have passed since the launch of the Women in Finance Charter
, which asks firms in the sector to pledge for gender balance, and one year since the Gender Pay Gap
legislation came in to force. “Diversity is at the heart of most boards’ agendas,” Phillippa said, pointing to a recent PwC survey
of 3,627 professional women, in which 82% of 290 respondents who work in financial services say they are confident of their ability to progress in their careers. Of those 290 respondents, more than half are concerned about the impact that having children will have on their career, in comparison to 42% in other sectors.
The PwC report cites UK government figures
published in September 2018, which says that the full-time gender pay gap is most extreme in financial services, at 31% (in comparison to the professional, scientific and technical sector at 20% and transportation and storage, which pays about the same for men and women working full-time).
Panellists at the event were Hilary Cooper, associate director at independent financial services think tank Finance Foundation; Emily Cox MBE, director of public affairs at Virgin Money; Joanne Murphy, chief operating officer at Chartered Banker Institute (who chaired the discussion); and Jon Terry, UK diversity and inclusion consultancy leader at PwC.
The gaping pay gap
The first point of discussion was addressing the gender pay gap in financial services. Emily Cox MBE recommended looking at pay analysis and bonus distribution through a diversity lens, with everything clearly laid out on a spreadsheet so it’s clear where the gaps are. “It makes you confront your own analysis, and makes people question their own decisions, and sometimes change them,” she said. For example, “it might be correct that in your team only the men received bonuses, but at least you’ve had to think about it and justify it to yourself”.
Hilary Cooper raised the issue of pay transparency. In a 2017 Chartered Banker Institute survey of 500 members, conducted in partnership with The Finance Foundation (download the report here
), a third of respondents say their company has low-level transparency about what other people earn and how pay rises are determined. This goes up to 46% when discussing bonuses. To challenge the lack of gender pay gap transparency, firms need to change the culture of secrecy and exclusion of information that people “ought to know”, and should provide “fair and objective criteria in a transparent environment”, so women (and men) can assess their own pay grades, Hilary said.
Ditching employers’ tendency to ask interviewees about their previous salary could make a difference, she added, saying that the practice “embeds historic gender pay gaps” and that a salary should be based on a person’s skill set.
An unconscious bias
Hilary also raised the issue of unconscious bias, which causes our brain to make an incredibly quick judgement of a person and situation without realising. These judgements can be influenced by background, culture, environment or personal experiences. In the workplace, this can have an effect on recruitment and promotion opportunities. Some firms have tried to combat this by introducing unconscious bias training or workshops, but Hilary isn’t convinced that a one-off training class would be effective in changing a person’s bias.
She suggested going “back to basics” and thinking about how unconscious bias might affect the recruitment process at the interview stage. “Are the people running structured interviews, asking the same questions, with pre-decided objective criteria? Asking people to perform tasks rather than judge their interview performance can help overcome unconscious bias and relates more to the skills of the role,” she said.
Emily agreed with Hilary that a one-off course isn’t going to change people overnight and explained that this type of training should be incorporated into a wider programme of initiatives to tackle bias in an organisation. Jon Terry told delegates that mandatory training is not the sole solution, nor can it instantly fix issues, but it can raise awareness, which is a start.
Returning to your career
Panel chair Joanne Murphy asked participants to comment on the significance of returner programmes in helping experienced women into middle and senior roles.
Returner programmes are for men and women who have had a break in their career – for example, because of maternity or paternity leave. They help embed a person back into a workplace, giving them support and often helping carve out a flexible working pattern. They often take the form of a fixed-term contract with training built in and can lead to a more permanent role. Jon told delegates that it is important to get professionals who have taken a career break back in to the workplace as employers are missing an opportunity to tap in to this talent. However, Jon added, in the PwC returners programme there were only 120 people last year, which he described as “tiny”.
He said that returner programmes for parents are particularly positive, and not just for the returners. “The skills these people have developed as a mother or father are valuable to business … but you won’t find that in a job description,” he said.
Keeping in touch
In addition to returner programmes, Hilary advised companies to use ‘keep in touch’ schemes, in which employees on a career break have an annual meeting with their company and come back to work for a week so that they are updated on the most recent systems and progressions of the business.
Virgin Money also offers a maternity mentoring programme, which Emily explained is offered to women and men on shared parental leave. The mentor is a business person that the employee on maternity leave selects to keep in touch with throughout their time off, and when they come back to work.
“You come back to the workplace and people treat you exactly as they did before you had a child and don’t factor in to conversations that your brain no longer works as it did, you’re sleep deprived and can’t find your work trousers in the chaos of home life,” said Emily.
“What I think is really important is giving them space to think and work through their issues by speaking to someone who understands that.”
Phillippa closed the discussion saying that she felt “uplifted” by what she had heard about returner programmes, maternity mentoring, tackling unconscious bias and using data and transparency to target gender pay gaps. But, she concluded, there is clearly still much more to do to address this gap in financial services, not just through policy, but also through culture change.
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