Women in Finance Charter: working to diversify the C-suite

Christopher Burke, CEO of Brickendon, tells FX-MM how initiatives like the Women in Finance Charter are helping to diversify financial services boardrooms, and what organisations can do to encourage more women into senior roles…

Women in Finance Charter: working to diversify the C-suite

What do you think has been the main problem preventing women from advancing into senior positions in financial services, and what affect has this had on the industry?

There is a multi-dimensional problem preventing women from advancing into senior positions in financial services that needs to be addressed by companies operating across this sector.

Despite the fact that women represent half of the available talent pool, women only make up 22% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) occupations. In addition, while girls are more likely to outperform boys in STEM subjects at GCSE Level, the number who choose these subjects at a higher-education level falls. This needs to be addressed by schools and by the government to ensure that teenagers are educated on their curriculum choices and encouraged to stick with maths-based subjects, which provide integral skills needed for the majority of roles in financial services. I’ve seen some schools run enrichment programs like “maths multiplies your options” which are great in giving students the exposure to careers that are available by studying such subjects.

The second challenge is retaining the female talent to ensure that they progress through the ranks into senior leadership positions. While the value that women offer to financial services, particularly at management level, is widely acknowledged as being significant in terms of experience, efficiency and knowledge, the number of women advancing up the career ladder decreases rapidly at middle-management level. Arguably there’s a correlation between the number of women leaving the sector to have children and the decrease in the number of women in middle-management positions. To help decrease this disparity, businesses should be supporting these mothers to return to the financial services sector and continue their careers from where they left off.

It’s important that we act on both fronts – plant the seed from a young age and continue to nurture young women to ensure that not only do they enter financial services, but are able to have long and prosperous careers without giving up the important family aspects of their lives.

To what extent do you think the Women in Finance Charter is the solution to breaking down these barriers?

The Women in Finance Charter is key in focusing companies’ minds on what is needed to encourage women to develop long term careers in financial services and return to the sector post-maternity leave. It’s always easy for firms to claim they support certain initiatives, but it is concrete actions, such as joining the Women in Finance Charter, that signify to the female workforce that the financial services sector is changing and wants to be a more inclusive and nurturing environment for them to flourish in.

There are other things that individual financial services firms must do to help this progression, such as develop ‘returnship’ programmes – a designated programme and support system aimed at helping those returning to a higher-level, higher-paid position following a minimum of two years out of work. A well-developed returnship is key to developing an inclusive culture and can offer a lifeline to help women to return to work in the financial services sector. These programmes support individuals to develop their skills, as well as boost their confidence and adapt to the evolved corporate landscape. Introducing returnships into a business sends a clear message to mothers that they are valued talent, as well as promoting the possibility of pursuing a financial services career while raising a family.

Another option, is to create tailored mentoring programmes, or ‘buddy systems’, pairing women in the workplace and allowing them to mentor each other. This way, female workers can provide guidance and advice to each other on a variety of issues, including how best to thrive in the financial services sector. Such schemes not only provide support for returning mothers, but also help raise awareness across the company, ultimately resulting in a more inclusive and accepting working environment.

How long before we begin to see noticeably more diverse boards of directors in finance?

It’s difficult to put a timescale on seeing notable diverse boards of directors in finance, as it’s an ongoing process and all firms must commit to taking continuous strides to ensure gender equality. One way this can be achieved is by encouraging women working at C- level in other industries to move into financial services. This could encourage the wider thought process and opportunity to enter the industry at all levels.

How important is flexibility and encouragement to the potential success of the Woman in Finance Charter?

Flexible working has grown tremendously in the last couple of years as firms recognise the need to be more lenient in allowing their employees to either work from home or have more flexibility with their standard working hours. Companies offering flexibility can attract and retain the highest calibre of talent. A career in financial services can be challenging, but it is also one of the most rewarding jobs out there, not only financially, but also in satisfaction of personal achievements.

Women play a pivotal role in the development of our industry and we must constantly address the challenges that are stopping the financial services sector from achieving gender equality. Judging by the number of firms that have already joined the Charter, it is evident that flexibility and encouragement is one of the pivotal ways in which we can encourage women to not only start their career in financial services, but also remain and progress up the ladder into senior leadership roles.

What is Brickendon doing to ensure diversity and equality among staff?

One way we’re supporting women is through pioneering a diverse working culture that’s embedded in our core values. We have seen that facilitating the achievement of personal goals within a flexible working culture, means that our staff not only deliver to the best of their capabilities, but are also engaged and committed members of the workforce. As a result, we are seeking to increase the number of women in all roles and levels of the organisation.

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