The WIBF Awards Alumni Network consists of women from all aspects of banking and financial services who have been bestowed awards by WIBF since 1998. The network encourages strong collaboration relationships between alumni in order to build and leverage best practice across the industry.
In Sept 2018 we held our first Alumni Dinner at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall, London and were delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness, The Countess of Wessex GCVO as our guest speaker. This remarkable event was kindly sponsored by Standard Life Aberdeen, and gathered together the Women in Banking & Finance award winners from the past 21 years to celebrate the significant contribution they have made to the banking and financial services industry.
The Countess of Wessex addressed the audience, speaking passionately of her desire to help achieve greater equality within the finance industry and beyond, and expressing deep gratitude for the important role that the assembled guests were playing in inspiring a new generation of women to achieve their career ambitions. A lively debate then ensued, as the WIBF alumni, an amazing collective of women were given the opportunity to share their top tips on how to accelerate change in our industry for women, posed questions to the Countess, and discussed ways in which the existing challenges to gender equality could be overcome.
Their insight included changes across the industry, at an organisational, senior management and individual level, as well as personal views on what they would like to change in their own organisation or industry.
Change at Organisational Level
Attendees highlighted the need for a paradigm shift across a variety of issues, including more widespread acceptance of, and accessibility to, agile and flexible work models. It was noted that leveraging the benefits for both men and women to allow for a better work life balance for all employees is essential, underlining that “the more it happens, the more normal it becomes”. Mechanisms also need to be put in place to facilitate this, and examples such as moving from 1- 2 days per week work from home to 1-2 days in the office could be critical factors in “reversing the polarity of remote working / working from home”.
Collaborative working between firms and childcare providers in “ensuring that all workplaces have childcare provision within easy reach of both male and female employees” was another example that had benefits for all stakeholders involved.
Suggestions were also made for “in-house corporate social media to play a role in promoting broader communication”, particularly across topics that embrace the lives of women and working parents, such as managing the school run, and feeding the family; and plays an important role in amplifying a culture of support and solidarity.
Building awareness of unconscious bias as part of a wider talent management and retention strategy was discussed, with suggestions for training to “ensure leaders know to question beyond the obvious when recruiting”, as well as running meetings and undertaking talent planning. Recommendations also included specific requirements to “always have at least one woman shortlisted for interviews” and “have at least one woman on the interview panel”. In addition, the introduction of blind or anonymous CVs that are skills and/or personality based, into the recruitment process allows “different people to be considered for the job and directly contribute to hiring a diverse workforce”.
The point was raised that to accelerate change, everyone must play a part, but this can only be achieved by ensuring that men “are part of the conversation”. It is therefore imperative that men are involved and educated on “the challenges women face and what they can do to increase their pipelines of talent”.
Organisations should also be encouraged to have “visible and accessible role models” and signing the Women in Finance Charter was cited as a tangible demonstration of organisational commitment to gender diversity. The role of bonuses in the industry was raised, with some suggesting that organisations should “get rid of bonuses” entirely. One of the key drivers for this was that “the bonus gap is significantly bigger than the pay gap” in financial services and is “more problematic because bonuses are awarded in such a non-transparent way”.
Change at Senior Management Level
Attendees made some clear proposals for change at a Senior Management level, both in terms of achieving progression and leading by example. Consequently, as well as implementing the changes required to make flexible working more accessible at an organisational level, it was seen as imperative for management to actively support these policies and “role model it at the most senior levels (both men and women)”.
Another proposal was to address the ‘Glass Ceiling’ and challenge the pyramid structure that is prevalent across the sector, which “prevents others, including women” to progress. This could be achieved by “making it compulsory for senior leaders to reapply for roles every 5 years” to ensure that the current system wherein “too many people at the top not moving anywhere” is regularly reassessed.
Mentoring programmes were praised for playing a pivotal role in positive organisational change with particular support for processes that enable “senior and junior employees to not only connect, but to advocate for rising talent”. The value seen in mentoring programme for high-potential women was unequivocal; however it was emphasised that mentors should be senior leaders within the organisation. Not only was this critical in assisting mentees with their career development, but provided a forum for these influential mentors “to get a greater understanding of the skills, opportunities and challenges facing women as they move through the organisation”.
Similarly, the onus was placed on Senior Managers to “tell the truth about the challenges involved in combining work and other commitments (particularly family)” to allow these discussion to take place in the workplace more openly, and for their direct reports to know that in a similar situation they would have “the full support of the organisation to work on addressing them”.
Change at and Individual Level
One of the key themes for making change at an individual level was resilience; in persevering rather than giving up “at the risk of being called ambitious”, not allowing yourself to be defeated and “not to take everything personally” and letting go of “perfect standards”.
Instead, calls were made for women to “put oneself out there for all networking and development opportunities” which are critical in making those all important connections, both from a personal development and career management perspective – “do not think those chances are only for those of a certain type”.
When hiring, women were encouraged to “contact your network of women to let them know” and to do their part in contributing to the visibility of women in the industry by “shining the light on the talent that exists” by actively targeting and encouraging those you admire to apply. It was also noted that encouragement was needed for “women themselves to promote their achievements”.
The importance of sharing stories was also raised, highlighting “how women have been able to manage their family commitments alongside their careers” as a way of opening dialogue and addressing challenges, such as engaging their partners to share the childcare responsibilities or equipping children to be more independent.
Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) was called upon to publish summaries of the targets set out in the Women in Finance Charter, “complimenting the firms showing ambition and highlighting those with underwhelming targets”. Pointing out that the Gender Pay Gap Reporting legislation is a legal requirement, it was suggested that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should follow more stringent enforcement policies and “publicly name firms who have not disclosed their gender pay gap data by the legal deadline”. Furthermore, those firms with static year on year gender pay gaps should be “politely / firmly asked if they believe that to be acceptable”.