Let’s face up to the gender gap

Terry Jon 03Author: Jon Terry, Global Financial Services HR Consulting leader

“Gender needs to be an open and honest conversation…not discussing it isn’t working anymore”, said Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, in a webcast conversation with Bob Moritz, Chairman of PwC US. Ms Sandberg is concerned that progress on bringing more women into senior management seems to have stalled in recent years. Unfortunately, financial services (FS) is no exception, with women still accounting for less than 20% of senior management positions.

Why is this? Within FS, the business case for gender equality and diversity as a whole is compelling. In a rapidly evolving marketplace, boards want to broaden their talent pool and attract people with fresh ideas and experiences. Nearly 60% of the FS industry leaders taking part in our latest global CEO survey say that their organisation now has a strategy to promote diversity and inclusiveness. More than three-quarters of these CEOs believe that diversity has enhanced innovation, customer satisfaction and overall business performance.

And the low number of women reaching senior management positions certainly isn’t down to a lack of ambition. We’ve just carried out a survey of nearly 600 female millennials (women born between 1980 and 1995) working in FS. The women see opportunities for career progression as the most important attribute in an employer (60%), the same as men.

More than four-fifths also say that a firm’s policy on diversity, equality and inclusiveness is important when choosing whether to join the organisation. This not only reflects their desire to work for a company that offers them opportunities to develop their individual careers, but also be part of an organisation that promotes positive values. Yet, more than 60% of the women in our survey say that their employer isn’t doing enough to encourage diversity. Half believe that promotion is biased towards men. The fact that only 20% of their male compatriots think that men have a better chance of promotion suggests that a lot of this bias is unconscious.



Voting with their feet
There’s clearly a danger that if women’s expectations aren’t met, they’ll be put off joining or leave, and that would be a terrible loss of talent and potential for a business.

So what can firms do to address these critical issues? I think CEOs should make a clear business case articulating why equality and inclusiveness are critical competitive priorities, and ensure management at all levels of the organisation promote them. Key questions include: "How can we engage female millennials in shaping our diversity strategy?" and "How can we adjust our talent strategies to consider their needs?"

It’s then vital to identify the biases, conscious and unconscious, that are holding women back. In many organisations this is likely to require a major rethink of progression and succession.

The firms that get this right are going to have a head start in an increasingly competitive job market, as the brightest and best candidates will actively seek out organisations that have a strong reputation for diversity and inclusiveness.

Jon Terry leads PwC’s global financial services HR consulting practice. Find out more


Visit CEO Insights next week for more thoughts on diversity and inclusion as PwC celebrates Global Diversity Week from 15-19 June.


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