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Outdated views of finance deterring women: WGEA

Business

The financial services industry could attract more women by dispelling the myth that it solely requires strong numeracy skills, according to an executive.

By Malavika Santhebennur 11 minute read

Dr Samone McCurdy, the executive manager of capacity building at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), told Accountants Daily that the financial services industry was perceived in binaries, which posed challenges to attracting a pipeline of women to the sector.

“We don’t necessarily understand how broad the sector is, and what other opportunities it presents. There’s a lot of strengths in the sector that I don’t think are promoted well,” she said ahead of the inaugural Women in Finance Summit 2023.

At the summit, she and a panel of speakers will unpack the unique challenges women face in financial services and strategies to overcome them.

“If we ask adolescent kids what occupation they would choose, most think about whether they’re strong in maths and science or English and language; whether they’re a caring person or are about making money,” she said.

“They think financial services is all about commerce, economics, and profit and loss. It has such a tight association with maths.”

This perception, which Dr McCurdy said was unchanged in 50 years, deterred women who did not find maths and science as appealing.

To change this, she urged the industry to educate newcomers about the different roles available in financial services that require skill sets other than maths.

“If you think about it, financial services providers share insights and support clients, which appeals to lots of people, particularly young girls and women,” Dr McCurdy said.

What does success look like for women?

Alongside this, Dr McCurdy encouraged the industry to redefine success, as women may measure it differently to men.

“We tend to define success as climbing the ladder. That’s not necessarily what success looks like for all women. Defining success as the rise to power is narrow and a masculine ideal,” she said.

“Interestingly, I think the things that will move you up the hierarchy aren’t necessarily the things that will keep you there or make you a good leader.”

Another poorly understood concept was the currency that employees used to rise through the ranks in an organisation. Some women might not have access to the tools and levers required to do this, she said.

“Many areas of financial services require employees to build good relationships, which is about networking. A lot of that happens after hours,” she said.

“We know that for women in particular, working long hours in competitive industries is difficult, especially in money-making sectors like investment banking. Networking after hours is also hard given their caregiving responsibilities.”

The pervasive gender pay gap

The gender pay gap remained a significant issue in the industry, she said, with WGEA data revealing that the gap in financial and insurance services was 28.6 per cent (the second highest out of all industries after construction).

Dr McCurdy observed that remuneration peaked for women at around 45 years and for men at 55 years.

“That says a lot about how they’re valued. When women reach ’mastery’ in terms of their earning potential, there is a sharp decline. But for men, it’s slower.”

The fact that discretionary pay such as bonuses and performance also contributed to remuneration widened the gender pay gap as they were linked with presence in the workplace or networking events after work hours.

Create a “coalition of influence”

However, Dr McCurdy was optimistic that “alignment of thinking” and changing perspectives on the ideal worker could close the gender pay gap.

She encouraged employers to embed a “coalition of influence” so that the responsibility for change was shared by different levels of the organisation.

The first step was for CEOs and boards to be responsible for gender equity and align with human resources and the diversity, equity and inclusion cohort.

Subsequently, executives should invest in the capability of line managers as they determine the employee experience, Dr McCurdy recommended.

“It’s important for line managers to demonstrate a gender-attuned leadership for all genders because they’re the ones who work closely with employees every day,” she said.

The moments that matter

Finally, Dr McCurdy encouraged employers to implement a workplace gender equality framework with objectives that covered the life cycle of an employee’s journey, and moments where disadvantage due to gender norms and stereotypes could appear.

They included recruitment, remuneration, retention, promotion, performance management processes, succession planning, training and development, and resignations.

“The levers that we need to pull haven’t altered over the last 15 years. We know what we need to do. It’s about how we’re going to do it,” Dr McCurdy concluded.

To hear more from Dr Samone McCurdy about how to empower women in financial services to build a stronger future, come along to the Women in Finance Summit 2023.

It will be held on Friday, 10 November at The Star, Sydney.

Click here to book tickets and don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

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Malavika Santhebennur

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