As a woman working in the finance industry, I have noticed that this sector faces a large and complex gender parity issue.
While women make up nearly half of the financial services industry globally, a recent study by non-profit organisation Catalyst shows they are less likely to get promoted in the finance sector and fewer than 13 per cent will be promoted to leadership roles at the C-suite level.
It is now time for the sector to recognise women’s vital contributions to the growth of the financial services industry.
Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 per cent more likely to demonstrate superior value creation, according to research by management consultancy McKinsey.
Increased female participation and improved representation of female leaders in the financial sector will lead to a more rounded view of customers, given that more than half of women now control their household finances and are responsible for savings and investing.
So, if your staff reflects your customer base, you are already talking the right language. Companies that do not put gender diversity at the forefront will find themselves at a disadvantage in the war for talent.
More women in leadership roles can turbocharge economic growth, making their participation more critical. Unfortunately, female representation falls off in mid-level and senior positions in the financial services industry globally.
Globally, women in financial institutions hold 20 per cent of positions in executive committees and 23 per cent on boards, but only 6 per cent are at the chief executive level, a report from management consultancy Oliver Wyman shows.
This is often due to a lack of support and commitment to issues surrounding work-life balance. More work needs to be done to upskill and retrain female employees, empowering them to move up the corporate ladder.
However, in the Middle East – traditionally viewed as one of the most challenging regions for female leaders to scale – women are gradually being assigned to more leadership positions within the financial sector.
The UAE, in particular, is ahead of the curve in terms of fostering equal opportunities for men and women, and is the first Arab country and the second country globally to introduce mandatory quotas requiring companies to have at least one female member on their boards.
From my experience, the current generation is much less tolerant of disparity in the sector than my cohort.
Advancing women’s role in the workforce is a key driver for change in economic sectors and positively contributes to national gross domestic product.
One of the most vital things for women to excel in the workplace is to invest in themselves and in their careers. Professional training is crucial for women to upskill and develop their leadership skills, as well as enable them to be more confident, especially after career breaks and maternity leave.
Leadership skills such as communication, collaboration and management skills combined with technical, sector-specific skills can provide women with an edge in their leadership journey. This is a key factor that fast-tracked my journey and helped me climb the corporate ladder.
Training programmes can help equip women with new leadership skills to help them lead more effectively and excel in their careers, in turn helping the organisation succeed further.
Companies should encourage women and their teams to take up professional training as it not only helps advance the female workforce, but also helps to stimulate collaborative and inclusive cultures that fuel innovation and promote growth.
Investing in upskilling the female workforce will play a key role in closing the gender parity gap in the financial sector.
By including more women across all levels in the C-suite, mid-senior and entry levels, companies can become more diverse, more financially stable, better at risk management, more socially conscious and, ultimately, more profitable.
Adding women to the mix is essential for the financial success of individual organisations as well as local, regional and global economies.
Fiona McBride is managing director of Kaplan Professional Middle East