Difficulties faced by Women in the Financial Workforce

”Woman teaching employees in an office" Photo by Yellowj - yayimages.com

Women have been active participants in financial institutions for decades. From fulfilling the role of teller to secretaries and administrative staff, women have featured regularly in financial roles. However, if you observe carefully, none of the aforementioned roles are senior or important in terms of responsibility.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that pioneering women persevered and their involvement in prominent management roles increased. For instance, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47% of roles related to management in American financial firms were assumed by females, a far cry from their days of occupying insignificant roles and completing menial tasks in the workplace.

This doesn't take into account those women who stand up to causes they believe in, such as protesting against abuse in Saudi Arabia, and in the United States, we have females in some very professional leading roles; such as, Sheryl Sandberg, CEO, Facebook, Ursula Burns, CEO, Xerox, and Tina Fey, Creator of the TV show '30 Rock', but these are not businesses in the financial domain.

This 47% statistic only scratches the surface and does not depict the fact that women are still hindered when it comes to financial roles, akin to the challenges they face in several other industries.

Current Situation

There is a discernible lack of progress afforded to women in financial services. A gender inequality and stereotype has ensued that women are unable to make it to top positions in their organizations - a fact that is shown in various surveys pertaining to women. The vast majority of women working in industries like accounting and finance believe that they face a different set of obstacles compared to their male counterparts.

An independent analysis carried out by the Harvard Business Review examined fifty American financial companies and the results showed that women only occupied 20% of executive roles and merely 22% of positions on the board. Furthermore, only 12% of the chief executive officers of large firms in the country were female.

Moreover, research into this issue has indicated that men benefit from better opportunities and more promotions than women. As a result, women are more likely to show a lack of ambition or quit the industry altogether. This contributes significantly to the fact that the prospects for women in financial services are worse when compared to other sectors.

Women building aluminum shells in the 1940s

Extensive research which includes surveys, interviews and focus groups, have shown interesting results. They portray a culture that has not changed for decades, as the picture on the left depicts - women building shells for the troops during WWI.

While sexism may have been mitigated considerably and women may have been accepted in more expanded roles, the fact remains that unconscious prejudice and expectations have not subsided.

For example, if men are the figureheads of organizations, they may not be as heavily invested in the progression of women. While we are not actively assigning blame, it is only logical to suggest that males who hold the power in large companies are instrumental in setting a culture that is experienced by all employees across the firm.

The issue at the center is that certain notion and concepts exist in the financial industry that creates a double standard essentially. For instance, if a male employee who is a senior figure exhibits aggressive behavior and is forthcoming in his demeanor, that may be considered as stereotypical masculinity. On the other end, if women behave in the same manner, then their actions may be hard to accept for their colleagues. This type of gender bias continues to hinder the chances of success for women in not just the financial industry, but other areas as well.

Naturally, this calls for women to either adapt to survive or ultimately succumb to preconceived notions and forge a strong career in another sector. Unfortunately, women create to a higher standard than their male counterparts, a fact which simply increases the obstacles they have to contend with.

While this may have the effect of creating stronger women in the financial workplace, it is still an unfortunate instance. Women who have been asked in the past have opined that organizations are willing to risk more on men and expect the opposite sex to prove their worth.

Illinois State Employment Service 1936. Jobs for girls poster 1936.

In a nutshell, women who are employed in financial services face a tougher career trajectory, a fact that begins in earnest from their first role and continues well into the advanced stages as they attempt to make their way to the top.

Bleak Outlook

In other words, there is a legitimate tradeoff involving higher costs and lower benefits. Women have to acclimatize to the harsh reality of life in the financial world. Their growth may be stymied by forces beyond their control and the outcome of that trade-off is that there are no guarantees that they will be facilitated the same way men are.

Sadly, another knock-on effect of a lack of women in senior positions in financial services and the industry at large is that it sets a dangerous precedent. The example lays into aspiring women is equally detrimental.

For instance, if women observe financial services at a cursory glance and notice that there is a dearth of women in influential roles, then they may be demotivated with regards to their own prospects and may be deterred into pursuing other professions and fields.

While financial organizations may be committed to ameliorating the gender imbalance or lack thereof in senior positions. They have implemented a number of women-friendly programs, which include maternity leave, flexible hours and mentorship schemes. This is done in a bid to allow women to be accepted in financial institutions.

Although these measures are helpful, considerably more work must be done to address issues revolving around women and their general position in this field. The unconscious biases and unrealistic expectations of organizational cultures that have harvested over decades must be abolished. This is not possible overnight but steps must be taken to initiate a gradual and steady improvement.

Posted On October 17, 2018