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Women in Finance Charter calls for urgent action now

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Authored by Aviva

The Women in Finance Champion, Amanda Blanc, has released recommendations to tackle the slow progress of women into senior roles across financial services

The proportion of women in senior management increased by only 1% between 2018 and 2020 (from 31% to 32%). At this rate, it is predicted it will take the financial services industry another 30 years to achieve gender parity at senior levels. 

The Women in Finance Charter asks signatories to commit to progressing women into senior roles in their business. To date, the Charter has successfully supported businesses to push their gender diversity agendas forward and drive sustainable change in financial services. But average progress towards targets has slowed in recent years. 

In response the Women in Finance Charter Accountable Executive Taskforce has worked with Bain & Company to set out a series of practical recommendations to help businesses accelerate their progress towards gender equality. The recommendations are based on interviews with financial services CEOs, academic research, and over 100 responses to a survey issued to all of the Charter’s  signatory organisations.

Amanda Blanc, Group Chief Executive Officer of Aviva, and Women in Finance Champion said:

“Progress towards gender equality in the financial sector remains frustratingly slow. Women, companies and society cannot afford to wait 30 years when we can achieve this in 10.

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“We’ve got to work quicker and harder, for the sake of women, for the sake of society and because a more diverse business is a more productive and innovative one. Our recommendations provide real life examples of best practice and a set of clear actions to guide us all towards lasting gender parity.”

The paper recommends financial services organisations take action in four areas to accelerate gender diversity:

Recruitment: recruitment is a powerful lever to accelerate gender representation. Proposals include:

  • mandate diverse shortlists for senior positions with 50% female representation
  • greater use of psychometric testing
  • remove male biased recruitment advertising
  • ensure diverse interview panels
  • start women at the top of pay scales for new roles
  • mid-career returners programmes to help women move back into work

Retention and promotionreversing the loss of female talent requires a fundamental shift in approach.  Proposals include:

  • publish bonus payments of senior members of organisation CEO and CEO-1 and -2
  • advertise all jobs as flexible
  • formal sponsorship programme for women at all levels
  • full pay equal parental leave, childcare facilities, and benefits packages that supports women at key life stages (e.g. menopause)

Culture and behaviour: a well-defined inclusive culture is essential for diversity to thrive. Proposals include:

  • reverse mentoring
  • champion senior female role models
  • funding and support for women’s networks
  • zero tolerance policy for harassment

Embedding diversity, equality & inclusion: most efforts to change an organisation produce mediocre results because they lack a focus on delivery – gender representation is no different. Proposals include:

  • detailed annual gender representation targets for all parts of organisation
  • gender parity targets embedded into KPIs/ scorecards for all senior management
  • real-time dashboard to showcase progress against gender targets accessible to the public

Nishma Gosrani OBE, partner in the Financial Services practice at Bain & Company said;

“It is vital that we make progress now and deliver a fundamental shift in the representation of women throughout the financial services industry. The sector’s reputation and ability to attract great talent are at stake. This blueprint sets out challenges and success stories and provides a practical toolkit for CEOs and their executives to deploy. Building the next generation of women leaders will be critical to the UK for attracting the best talent as a world-leading international financial centre. ”

The scale of the challenge facing the financial services industry – and the need for urgent action – is set out in the report.

Parental leave & flexible working:

  • Organisations surveyed offered a median two weeks paternity leave vs 20 weeks maternity leave
  • 91% of surveyed organisations do not monitor for unintended penalties from flexible working such as proximity bias.
  • 18% have a career returners programme (to enable people to return to work after long breaks e.g., time out to raise children)

Executive engagement:

  • 94% track and report female representation in senior management
  • 32% have a real-time dashboard with gender parity targets at Exec and Board level meetings
  • 68% do not have female representation on all promotion committees

Embedding culture:

  • 18% audit performance reviews for bias
  • 36% have an inclusive meeting protocol to ensure the right people are at the table and to eliminate ‘group think’
  • Only 20% of surveyed signatories offer sponsorship programmes to senior women.

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