Smashing the glass ceiling for Australia’s women in markets
How can Australia’s financial services industry smash the glass ceiling? Female leaders at Yieldbroker’s inaugural Women in Markets event shared their insights.
Workplace diversity is a topic that’s been widely discussed in the financial services arena. But despite the stated importance of gender balance within industry, many jobs in the financial sector – as with mining and construction – remain remarkably male-dominated.
In Australia’s financial services sector, only 10% of key leadership positions – including Chief Executive Officer, Chief Investment Officer and Chief Financial Officer – are held by women. We’ve never had a female Treasury Secretary, or a female chief economist at a “Big Four” bank, and very few major think tanks have been run by women.
So why, in this day and age, are there still comparatively few women in finance? How are they navigating their careers in an industry where (sadly) social connections often drive board appointments? And how can we work together to understand and resolve the issues that will obliterate the glass ceiling?
At Yieldbroker’s inaugural Women in Markets event, held to celebrate women and their contributions to financial services, guest panelists and various other female leaders discussed these very issues, and shared their insights on how to effect change, based on their experience.
The challenges facing women in finance
Unlike in construction or manufacturing roles – where physical labour (and therefore more physical strength) is often required to get the job done – there’s no reason women can’t perform any task in financial services better than men.
There are, however, some issues that have over the years made the industry undesirable for women.
1 . The gender pay gap
In Australia, the biggest gender pay gap remains in financial and insurance services, at 31.9%, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)’s latest scorecard. While the gender pay divide is going down overall, men still earn more than women by an average of $26,527 per year in every industry and occupation.
Salary transparency is key to solving the gender pay gap, with measurable success observed in several countries. In Sweden, Norway and Finland, for example, everyone’s tax returns are published publicly yearly, and companies with big pay gaps need to take steps to close them, or face significant fines.
At 15%, Sweden’s gender pay gap is still significant, but it’s half that of Australia’s.
Releasing data about salaries is an indication that a company is willing to hold itself accountable publicly. And while that sort of transparency may yield greater scrutiny, it can also greatly help organisations establish trust.
2 . Boys’ club culture still prevalent
Even as diversity in the workplace increases, the “boys’ club” culture is still apparent in high-finance environments. In many such cases, women also feel the need to behave like men in order to be accepted and valued on the same level as their male counterparts.
When asked how they navigated boys’ club cultures in their careers, panelists said that self-drive, straightforwardness and forming networks of their own were key to challenging and reducing any negative attitudes towards women and their place in the corporate environment.
“For me, the strong network I’d build when I was an intern turned out to be really important for me in the early years of my career. With that network, it didn’t seem to make a difference whether I was female or male,” she said.
“The boy’s club exists, more dominantly in some companies than others, but it is slowly dying down. It’s also not impenetrable. Being self-aware about how you can contribute, upfront about being included in group activities, and not being afraid to be your own person [instead of trying to be like one of them] will break down barriers and help you become even more visible,” another panelist said.
3 . Equality with maternity leave
One of the most talked about problems facing women in finance is changing perceptions that they can’t do their jobs as well once they’ve had a baby. The big difference here is that men have children too, but no one thinks any less of them, or questions their ability to do as good a job after they’ve become fathers.
To combat this, it’s important for organisations to have policies in place that encourage equality in female and male employees who become parents.
Having equal paternity and maternity leave, for example, will give fathers the choice to share the load as carers, and help remove the misconception that childcare is a task primarily taken on by women.
Organisations should also put in place processes that help women returning from maternity leave to get back into the swing of things faster, and improve communication lines so that decisions concerning their capabilities aren’t made for them.
Committing to long-term change
Of course, recognising the issues prohibiting women from playing an even bigger role in the finance industry is one thing. Ensuring action is taken to eradicate the glass ceiling is another.
That’s why, over the next year, Yieldbroker is actively promoting change by investing in resources to improve our gender diversity, support women in their roles and define clearer pathways to leadership.
We believe that addressing these issues is not just the right thing to do; it also benefits our organisation, our employees, customers, and shareholders on the whole, and can only serve to improve the entire financial services industry in the long run.