Why We Shouldn’t Ignore the ‘Glass Ceiling’
It’s no secret that gender diversity has been a sensitive and contentious subject in most industries, especially those like finance which have been historically male-dominated. Today, there are those who argue that there is no longer a ‘glass ceiling’ to break; that gender discrimination within professional spaces no longer exists. An interesting experiment was carried out last year which demonstrates that gender inequality in the workplace is a problem that has yet to be solved…
It began with Martin R. Schneider, an editor at a movie review website, accidentally signing off a work email with his female co-worker’s signature. The client he was emailing was “rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions”. He realised the problem was his female co-worker’s signature when he noticed his mistake and re-introduced himself using his own. “Immediate improvement. Positive reception, thanking me for suggestions, responds promptly. He became a model client!” This complete turn-around made him re-assess what he called “the invisible advantage” of a male email signature.
Following this experience, he decided to switch email signatures with his female co-worker for two weeks, which he described as “hell”. He said afterwards “everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending”. His co-worker, however, saw an increase in polite and prompt responses – a stark contrast to her usual communications. On the experiment Mr Schneider concluded:
“I realised the reason she took longer is because she had to convince clients to respect her. By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client…”
Although this is an example from a different profession, it is unfortunately an obstacle that many women in executive roles come across. Considering that the financial planning profession has a poor track record for gender diversity, this issue is something firms should be aiming to solve. Bearing this in mind, how can individual firms like ours support the continual recruitment and promotion of women in finance?
Signing the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter
The HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter is a commitment by HM Treasury and signatory firms to work together to build a more balanced and fair industry. It reflects the government’s aspiration to see gender balance at all levels across financial services firms. Many businesses, including our own, have recognised that a balanced workforce is good for business – for clients, for profitability and for workplace culture – and is increasingly attractive to investors.
First Wealth signed the Women in Finance Charter on the 22nd June 2018. For us, this was a commitment to drive genuine change in the sector by implementing the government’s recommendations to improve gender diversity in financial services.
By signing this Charter, we pledged to promote gender diversity by:
- Making a member of our senior executive team (Anthony) responsible and accountable for gender diversity and inclusion;
- Setting internal targets for gender diversity in our senior management;
- Publishing progress annually against these targets in reports on our website;
- Having an intention to ensure the pay of the senior executive team is linked to delivery against these internal targets on gender diversity.
First Wealth’s Women in Finance
We spoke to three of our team members to get their thoughts on the Charter and the issue of gender inequality in the financial planning profession:
Kerry Burgess, Practice Manager
One of our initiatives this year with our clients is ‘What Matters Most?’ I can honestly say that having a balance between having a career that I love and still being able to spend quality time with my family is what matters most to me.
At First Wealth we offer every team member the flexibility to work from home. I am grateful for this, as I have never missed a school event, or important date. But the Women in Finance Charter is so much more than about flexibility – it is about an equal balance for all team members regarding career opportunities, pay, flexibility and lifestyle, regardless of their gender.
Unfortunately, there is a bit of cynicism when it comes to gender diversity quotas, and we can understand why. It’s important to note that First Wealth would hire for any role based on who was the best candidate and met our core values as a business. If there is no gender discrimination, and the same number of women and men applying, then this is a quota that we will continue to meet naturally. The issue is that women are not being encouraged to go for these roles, and that’s what this Charter aims to change through education and support.
By signing this Charter we’re practicing what we preach: inspiring our team to develop within their chosen career path and giving individuals the freedom to live. After all, life is not a rehearsal!
Zoe Raynsford, Paraplanner
Before I had children, I didn’t really understand how great the need was for me to have a work/home life balance...
Having had two beautiful boys in a very short space of time, being given the opportunity to work flexible hours as well as a part-time role has satisfied the demands of being both a mother and having a career that I am passionate about.
Had this opportunity not been offered to me, I would have resigned and taken on the role of full-time mum. Over the years, working for insurance providers and having seen friends go through the same process, I have seen that there is a severe lack of opportunities for part-time mums. This means that people in my situation end up leaving their employment when they start a family. As a result of this, the management team becomes extremely male-dominated. This ‘career cut-off period’ for most women not only deprives them of a career, but also deprives the financial planning profession of valuable advisers.
Seeing First Wealth continue to take steps to change attitudes in the profession is extremely encouraging. I think this Charter will have a transformative effect on both the recruitment and promotion process in the sector.
Claire Phillips, Partner and Chartered Financial Planner
This might be a bit of a contentious statement to make, but my hope is that by signing this Charter, in a few years it will be redundant.
I hope that with the right education and support, women will continue to be attracted to and hired in these roles that are currently male-dominated. Gender equality and 50:50 male:female ratios will simply be a given, and there won’t be a need to pledge inclusivity.
I think it’s great that First Wealth is making decisions that will help level the playing field. The support and flexibility that Kerry and Zoe explored is offered to all of our team regardless of gender. For example, a working father and mother should both be offered a part-time role if needed. It’s this equality for everyone that I think is the most important to work towards.
Personally, I am working with the Personal Finance Society and Chartered Insurance Institute to educate young people (female and male) on the financial planning profession. My hope is that all young people will be given equal opportunities to get onto this career path.
When we talk about what matters most to our clients, we know that for ourselves it is building a firm based on values of respect and inclusivity. Irrespective of gender, the bottom line is who can offer the best financial advice and get the job done best. Kerry, Zoe and Claire are exemplary examples of hiring by these values. Their insights based on personal experience are why we signed the Charter in the first place. We hope to ensure that they and every other member of our team are always given the opportunity to offer their unique services to the profession at any level they choose.