How to make the financial sector more attractive to women

In recent years, companies across the financial landscape have become increasingly committed to addressing the gender imbalance and attracting more women to the sector, writes Sandra Robertson, group chief executive of iPensions.

A number of initiatives have followed the launch of the Women in Finance Charter, but more can be done. This is an industry-wide responsibility, and it is up to each of us to actively encourage and support change.

At iPensions Group, our success is largely dependent on our people. We identify and support unique talents, experiences and perspectives, and we always ensure equal opportunity. As a result, we have a well-balanced leadership team, with women occupying just over 50% of management and leadership roles.

So how do we attract and promote women to leadership positions? While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing gender imbalance, I’ve recommended looking at the following areas to create inclusive workspaces that thrive on team diversity.

Save your inspiration

My experience over the years has shown that it is possible to attract women early in their careers, but the balance starts to drift as women approach management level.

What is concerning is that although there has been an increase in the number of women in management and leadership positions, post-pandemic we are seeing women across the industry leaving positions for which they have worked so hard. This then reduces the role models available to bring in the next generation.

These leaders are inspirational in their accomplishments, so do all you can to retain them. Ensure an equal and inclusive workplace where women from all walks of life feel valued, supported and recognized. Not only will you retain them, but you will create the future influx of female leaders.

Women need to know that it is possible to get such positions – and the best way is to see people in these positions. This is what will support long-term change for gender balance.

Provide true flexible working

Although both women and men have additional caregiving responsibilities, it is often women who feel they cannot juggle the demands of a leadership position with caring for children or of elderly parents.

It is therefore crucial that flexible working arrangements allow them to fulfill all their roles. But it has to be real flexible working.

You should consider how policies could be improved to better meet employee needs. It should be accessible to all, so that women feel comfortable discussing it, and supported by their employer.

The ability to quickly switch between roles is often required unexpectedly and requires the full support of the organization.

This will ensure there is no undue embarrassment, guilt or pressure, and allow them to be ‘present’ and focus their attention where it needs to be at the time.

Challenge the past

History has seen the lack of flexibility force some women to take a particular path, or even fight, to gain a position of leadership.

They may have had to return to work after three months of maternity leave, working long hours and barely seeing their child.

But that doesn’t mean it should be accepted and expected for the next generation.

Our goal is to challenge the past. Reflect the current environment and don’t expect women to follow in someone else’s footsteps. Instead, create a leadership journey that works for them.

Provide mentorship

Mentoring is key to attracting and retaining women in leadership positions. This will help them see their potential and eliminate some of the unconscious biases that exist.

In my experience, while organizations can support opening up opportunities and put the right policies in place, women often hold themselves back from moving forward.

It’s called “sticky ground,” where women don’t believe in their own abilities. Like ‘impostor syndrome’, this trait is more common in women.

This is why it is our responsibility as women leaders to support and encourage women throughout their careers.

Mentoring is key – perhaps starting a formal mentoring program, or making sure the CEO is available and genuine, and nurtures female talent within the organization.

Remember the benefits

Finally, know why you are trying to attract and promote female leadership. There are many advantages.

Having spent more than 30 years in leadership positions in the financial services industry, I have found that diversity brings new skills, adds cultural difference, drives innovation and increases productivity.

Diversity and inclusiveness generate creative ideas, better solutions, new perspectives and ultimately fuel sustainability and growth.

But workplace diversity shouldn’t just prioritize women — it should foster a fluid mix of both genders across the organization.

This is the way to go. Let’s leave the past, in the past.

This article was written for International Advisor by Sandra Robertson, Group Managing Director of iPensions Group.

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