Word on the web: Where are the women?

Despite the fact that many of the world's major banks employ more women than men, they remain under-represented at the top of financial institutions 

A recent MSCI Women in finance report finds that over 60% of financial services companies draw “on a substantial female talent pool to employ a higher percentage of women than men”, according to Financial News’ Elizabeth Pfeuti. This is especially true of organisations with large retail operations, such as Citigroup, HSBC and JP Morgan. 

Those in the “opposite camp” include financial firms with large capital markets operations. 

However, the vast majority, 95%, have fewer women than expected in senior management – a mere five out of 91 firms have more women than expected at a senior level, all of them within the Asia Pacific region. Furthermore, “the ratios of men occupying senior roles at Citi, HSBC and JP Morgan were 78%, 76% and 70%, respectively”, says Pfeuti.

A number of companies are employing more men in senior management positions, despite a strong female talent pool, leaving an “open question” regarding the possible effects on overall performance, or recruitment, according to MSCI.

The research also finds that companies employing more women have “lower staff costs than the heavily male-dominated ones” due to their receiving lower salaries than their male colleagues, even when occupying the same positions, Pfeuti notes. 

Financial News story
A historic move One country trying to address the lack of senior women in finance is Saudi Arabia. Recently, in “what marks a historical moment for both the industry and wider society”, three women secured top jobs in the Saudi financial sector, writes Arab News’ Lulwa Shalhoub. The move is in line with the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan to “increase the participation of women in the workforce from 22% to 30%”.

Sarah Al-Suhaimi is the new chair of Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange, the Tadawul – the largest bourse in the Middle East. It is expected that she will keep her current role as CEO of the investment-banking unit at National Commercial Bank Capital, according to Shalhoub. 

Meanwhile, Rania Nashar has become the CEO of Samba Financial Group – and the first female CEO of a listed Saudi commercial bank – and Latifa Al-Sabhan is now the chief financial officer of Arab National Bank.
The percentage of financial services companies that, when surveyed, had fewer women than expected in senior management

Despite triumphs such as these, there are still obstacles facing women in the Saudi workplace. Hatoon Al-Fassi, a Saudi writer and visiting professor at Qatar University, is quoted: “The main issue when it comes to empowerment is that there are still rules [related to guardianship] which discriminate against women and make them ... incapable of making important life decisions.” 

But the government is working hard to improve this, “appointing more women in decision-making positions in the past few years”, says Shalhoub. The Vision 2030 reform plan states: “With over 50% of our university graduates being female, we will continue to develop their talents, invest in their productive capabilities and enable them to strengthen their future and contribute to the development of our society and economy.”

Arab News story
Closing the pay gap In the UK, the gender pay gap remains a key issue. While opportunities for women in the workplace across all industries have significantly improved since 2000, “it will still take until 2041 to close the gender pay gap”, says City AM's Rebecca Smith, citing data from PwC’s Women in work index: closing the gender pay gap. If historical trends continue, Poland, Luxembourg and Belgium will likely close their gender pay gaps within 20 years, but it could take up to 200 years in Germany and Spain unless crucial “underlying structural factors“ are addressed, the research finds. PwC names occupational segregation and differences in work-life patterns – resulting in women clustering in lower paying industries and roles – as key factors affecting the gap in earnings. 

In terms of female economic empowerment, the UK is now positioned 13th out of 33 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is a result of improved employment rates for women, a smaller gender pay gap and “a reduction of the gap between male and female labour force participation rates”, Smith writes. However, Britain ranks 30th for the number of female workers in full-time employment, with Iceland, Sweden and Norway occupying the top spots. Women also make up a very small percentage of the workplace in the highest paying sectors – financial services has the largest pay gap at 34%. 

Smith quotes an economist at PwC, Yong Jing Teow: “By fully closing the gender pay gap we could boost women’s earnings by £85bn, which is an average of £6,100 per woman per year.” In London, this figure is much higher, with a potential boost in female earnings of £8,800 per person.

From April, new government regulation – designed to “shine a light on workplace practices that could be preventing women from reaching the top in their organisations” – will force large employers to publish their “gender pay and gender bonus pay gaps”, says Smith. Approximately 8,000 employers and 11 million employees will be affected.

The outlook is promising. Governments and firms worldwide are stepping up, but there is still a way to go to level the playing field. 

City AM story

Seen a blog, news story or discussion online that you think might interest CISI members? Email rosalie.starling@wardour.co.uk.
Published: 24 Feb 2017
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