Views on Diversity: The Battle of the Sexes

21 March 2019

The need to promote greater gender diversity at all levels is well-discussed in the financial services sector. However, a recent NSCG (formerly BrightPool) survey discovered that men and women aren’t on the same page when it comes to implementing a diverse culture, responsibility and the level of diversity within their organisations.

Differing views and experiences

Although support for diversity schemes is widespread amongst men and women in financial services, their ways of going about it vastly differ. Women are more likely to see diversity as an organisation-wide endeavour (63% of women, compared to 52% of men). However, 59% of men see it as a board-level effort, versus 46% of women. The inequality as you move higher up the ranks could explain these findings.

Lacking confidence in board-level support

Females occupy only 20% of executive committee roles and 22% of board positions in financial services. Because they fail to see themselves represented within upper management, some women don’t feel confident that a board-only approach would succeed in meeting their needs.

Likewise, nearly double the number of female respondents reports a lack of diversity at senior levels. This view isn’t matched by males, with only 17% believing that their senior management has a diversity issue.

The impact of role modelsA lack of senior female role models in an organisation has a ripple effect across the workforce. Without one or two females leading the way, others lack the motivation to reach the upper echelons. As Deanna Strable, executive VP and CFO at Principal Financial Services, explains, “The lack of women in C-suite positions is a self-perpetuating cycle. Because we don’t have many females in the C-suite, young women don’t see role models or potential paths towards executive-level leadership and are more likely to deselect themselves out of higher-level leadership roles.”

Support at every step

But how can organisations solve this issue? Promoting more women to upper management might appear to be a simple solution. However, the lack of progress up the career ladder is impacting females at all levels. By the time you reach board-level (or just below it), there’s already a backlog of female candidates worthy of a promotion.

Instead, organisations must look to sponsorship and mentorship at all levels. By instilling confidence in women at an early stage, organisations will see more females rising to break the glass ceiling.

Network building beyond the fringe

Key to this is helping women build extensive networks that they can call upon for advice, support for a promotion and boosting self-confidence. Whilst ‘women in finance’ groups can be beneficial, they tend to pigeonhole efforts and don’t expose women to the broad networks cultivated by male colleagues. Wells Fargo board member Karen Peetz notes that women-only groups can “unwittingly be viewed as some kind of fringe effort. It’s a best practice to have heterogeneous groups, with men involved as mentors, coming to programs, and demonstrating their support.”

Both genders on-board

For gender parity to be realised, both men and women must be involved – at all levels. It has to be a strategic priority for everyone and integrated into the daily workings of the organisation. In other words, gender equality must be part-and-parcel of the company culture, with everyone striving for greater diversity and inclusion.

To start, that means all must be on the same page. So, efforts are already undermined when men and women have differing views about their workplace’s diversity. Greater collaboration and communication between the sexes will combat this. With an added bonus towards fostering the kind of mixed-gender mentorship recommended by Peetz.

It begins with culture

Efforts must be widespread and meaningful. Highlighting diversity through photoshoots, posters and special events aren’t moving the needle fast enough. Organisations must revamp their culture to drive progress and make diversity an accountable success metric.

That applies to all kinds of diversity, beyond gender. As discussed previously, embracing diversity in all its forms develops an open and inclusive culture that mitigates risk, fights misconduct and betters the bottom-line. Now that’s a battle worth fighting for.

Want to build a gender-inclusive culture that supports your women at all levels? Contact us.

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