The Square Mile may no longer be the obviously hostile place that it was 20 years ago. But the shift away from bawdy banter and open discrimination has still left women in a small minority across the City’s senior ranks. “The pool just gets thinner and thinner as you go up the firm,” says a leading female investment banker. “There are huge institutional barriers to women in the City,” says another. “And if you think your career won’t advance, why would you stay?”
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Some damning statistics reinforce such anecdotal analysis. An exclusive study by the Financial Times reveals that, despite a near 50-50 gender balance in overall staff numbers, just 19.5 per cent of senior roles across the top City employers are held by women.
Over six months the FT gathered data from more than 30 of the City’s top employers in banking, insurance, asset management and the professional services and interviewed more than two dozen people, including many of Britain’s leading female financiers.
Of all the City professions, banking is the most notorious for its male bias. The FT data shows that just 16.2 per cent of City banks’ managing director level posts are held by women. (If you’re a homegrown British woman, the odds appear even more stacked against you — the handful of senior female bankers in the City are predominantly foreign. To thrive in the cut-throat world of investment banking requires a certain swagger that perhaps just isn’t synonymous with deferential Britishness.)
Even in City careers that are less male-dominated, there is a big gender imbalance in top positions. The FT found that at the big four accountancy firms, an average of only 16 per cent of partner positions are held by women. According to a McKinsey study for the 30% Club, a women’s lobby group, men are 10 times more likely than women to become a partner at a City law firm, and three times more likely at a large accountancy firm.
Joanna Blackburn - Partner - Employment Department, Mishcon de Reya
Rebecca Skit - former Chief Human Resources Officer, The Co-operative Group and Human Resources Director, Barclays Global Retail Bank
Professor David James - Hult International Business School
Another fast moving and hard hitting evening at the Inspired Leaders Network where our panel were without fear of convention by tackling the tricky and difficult subject of Sexism in the City. The conversation soon broadened itself out to cover all industries and all places of work, not just the City. It didn’t take long to establish just how gruesome and universal the issue of sexism has become. Sure, there has been progress, but the big ticket items have not been successfully addressed.
There has been many strategies and activities but few real breakthroughs. Our panel challenged whether these activities were meaningful or just window dressing? It became clear that there are many well intentioned initiatives BUT they are NOT working!
There was clearly a generational thing amongst the women who attended with many of our students and those at the outset of their careers clearly finding some attitudes and behaviours unacceptable and keen to persevere despite the obstacles, but not without a fight. Our more mature guests were a little more frustrated at the ‘blockers’ to change and perhaps were now seeing the whole set up and organisation of business as not being ‘fit for purpose’ anymore, BUT vested interests were proving hard to sign up for whole sale change.
We touched on the danger of ‘presenteeism’, and being seen to turn up and spend all the hours you can just to be part of the ‘rat race’. We tackled quotas and where they worked and where they hindered, and so much more.
The conclusion we eventually came to is that there are many activities and strategies to eradicate sexism in the workplace, nearly all are well intentioned but they are only making a small dent in the rock hard and impenetrable cocoon that maintains the ugly status quo – it is now a time for concerted and inspired leadership at all levels and by all those who believe in the power and fairness of a true meritocracy.
Click below to watch highlights