Alumni Insights White Paper - Create A Gender-Balanced Workplace

In October 2019 WIBF held our annual Alumni Dinner at The Allbright Members Club, Mayfair and were delighted to welcome Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute and author of the insightful and inspiring “Create a Gender-balanced Workplace” as our guest speaker. This remarkable event, kindly sponsored by Santander, brought together past Women in Banking & Finance award winners and provided an opportunity to explore how we can advance the gender agenda for all by discussing and suggesting solutions to key issues and building a strong network for all women to leverage for their own career advancement.

Ann Francke addressed the audience, speaking passionately on the business case for gender equality in the workplace, the top five corporate characteristics that demonstrate real commitment to gender progress, and the top five pitfalls preventing gender balance at work.

Ann presented the clear business case and benefits for gender equality. Research has shown that gender balance delivers better financial performance, drives better decision-making while reducing risk, increases a company’s ability to attract and retain talent, enhances employee engagement, culture and trust and finally, brings companies closer to their customers and elevates brand.

At various intervals throughout the evening, a number of pertinent questions were posed to the Alumni group on issues such as: “Why do you think Financial Services is one of the top sectors with the largest pay gap?”, “What can you do more proactively to ensure junior women are promoted as they rise through the ranks?”; and “What have you seen take place in your organisation which has helped to improve gender balance?”.


When addressing why the financial services sector still has one of the largest gender pay gaps, attendees highlighted the need for a fundamental change in culture. It was noted in many of the responses that “because the sector attracts, recognises and rewards aggressive masculine behaviour, particularly in revenue-generating areas and roles”, the gender pay gap remains a significant issue. It was felt by many attendees that the distinction between revenue generating and non-revenue generating roles is key as “men dominate revenue generating senior roles and women are more representative in non-revenue generating roles at the senior level; revenue generating pays more than non-revenue generating” and “promotion into senior roles still mostly based on revenue contribution rather than a healthy balance of good and effective leadership”.

Lack of transparency around compensation and progression is also a critical factor as “the bonus and pay rise processing are subjective and decisions made by men…with no transparency!” with a “secretive bonus culture” and “opaque recruitment and progression processes” still prevailing to the detriment of female employees. Lastly, as Ann cited the “motherhood penalty”, the prevailing stigma associated with flexible working practices and the culture of presenteeism is a barrier to achieving gender balance in the workplace.

Importance of Sponsorship

During her remarks, Ann stressed the importance of having a strong sponsor and advocate for any woman to climb the corporate ladder. “A mentor talks with you, whereas a sponsor talks about you. And importantly, advocates for you and ensures your contribution is visible. This is a very important distinction and it is extremely difficult for women to progress without the support of a senior sponsor”.

When attendees were asked what they could do to proactively nurture and support junior women, mentorship and sponsorship was regularly cited as an important factor. Women can “take an active role in sponsoring multiple female colleagues, junior or senior” and to “support [junior women] by providing them with a senior sponsor/mentor to navigate them through a usually complicated process. Coach them and give them the opportunities to raise their profile. Ensure their voice is heard”.

While women are becoming increasingly active and involved in supporting more junior women, the role of men is just as important, if not more important in achieving gender balance and equality. “Offer to sponsor and ask some male colleagues to sponsor females in your business” and going even further to “give men a scorecard requirement to deliver on female diversity, linked to bonus”.

Company commitment to diversity

Ann Francke reiterated the importance of a company showing true commitment to diversity by citing both clear and tangible targets with timeframes. Citing five practices that work: 1) companies need to track targets which are tied to the performance of the senior management team; 2) ensure transparency around pay and bonus coupled with gender-balanced hiring practices 3) introduce and promote structured sponsorship programmes; 4) implement and promote truly agile working; and 5) the importance of “men as change agents” and the calling out of bad behaviour.

Signing the HMT Women in Finance Charter was cited as a tangible demonstration of organisational commitment to gender diversity.

With respect to best practices witnessed at the organisational level, role rotation was cited as a positive practice to ensure women gain exposure to the most senior levels of an organisation. “Ex officio exco positions - putting high performing women into temporary places on senior management teams to get exposure and experience”. Other positive practices cited included “measuring leaders on their individual advocacy of women in senior roles”, “more visible and varied role models - multiple models of success to reflect the diversity in the population (not just from a gender perspective)”; and “male leaders doing more than just paying lip service but truly championing gender diversity and supporting females within the organisation across all levels of the organisation”.

Change at Individual Level for the greater good

One of the key themes for making change at an individual level was calling out bad behaviour and proactively addressing what McKinsey calls “micro aggressions” and the use of negative language when addressing or discussing female colleagues. Calls were made for women to speak up, both for ourselves as individuals and on behalf of all women. Attendees cited the importance of “raising male and female awareness of unconscious bias and discriminating behaviour towards females”, “ask how your pay differs from your male colleagues” and “call our informal ‘male on male’ sponsorships and ask ‘what about me’!!”.

What can we all do at an individual level to support ourselves and our female colleagues? Ann Francke cited five important steps we can all take today to drive change: 1) keep an achievement log; 2) negotiate a promotion/raise; 3) create a culture of trust and challenge bad behaviour; 4) find a sponsor/mentor and be a sponsor/mentor; 5) utilise the recommendations in her book Create a Gender-balanced Workplace.

This insightful and engaging event generated much debate, many constructive and forward-thinking suggestions and eager participation from all alumni and participants as we share best practice and collectively work towards achieving gender equality in the workplace.

You can find out more and nominate for the 2020 WIBF Awards for Achievement here until 28th February 2020.

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