November 2017

OPINION: Cherchez la femme

Fiona_RintoulSince Harvey Weinstein was booted off the board of his own film company in October, there has been a lot of much-needed deep reflection on how our society treats women.

Personally, I’m shocked that anyone is shocked that large numbers of women have experienced sexual harassment. I do not know a single woman who has not experienced sexual harassment of one sort or another and I’d be surprised if there is a woman alive who has not at some point in her life experienced despondency as a result.

Now we are thinking about other ways women are oppressed. Because, be it cat calls on the street or tits in the newspaper, that is what sexual harassment is: a form of oppression. The message is always clear: stay at home, girlie.

The finance industry is caught up in the general othering of women in two ways. First, it has not traditionally promoted many women to senior roles, though this is changing. For example, there exists now an industry listing of influential women in European finance that reveals what women are doing to promote diversity in their own workplace and beyond, including mentoring women at the start of their careers, lobbying for flexible working practices and integrating diversity criteria into ESG analysis.

Still. This is the 21st century. Most fund managers are men. Most managers in financial firms are men. Data collected by the Financial Times show that women make up less than one quarter of senior staff at the 25 major international banks willing to share their data with the newspaper, while data from LinkedIn show that women accounted for just 23% of all leadership hires in the financial sector in 2016.

The dearth of women in senior positions may help to explain the second problem the finance industry has with women: it is not serving them as well as it could. A report entitled ‘Winning over Women’ from data research company Kantar shows that women approach financial decisions differently from men but financial advisers don’t always take account of that. This is most marked in investment and pensions. Women see this as a man’s world, the report says. They feel diminished when meeting investment experts and see financial advisers as arrogant and untrustworthy. This helps to explain why 40% of women are worried about running out of money in retirement.

How do we fix this? One way is to train financial advisers in diversity, as Old Mutual is doing. “We recently launched the Financial Adviser School, which seeks to not only bridge the advice gap, but attract people from diverse backgrounds so everyone feels they are getting relatable advice,” says Jane Goodland, responsible business director at Old Mutual Wealth. “Over 30% or our students are women and all of our students are taught how they need to market and speak differently to different demographics, including women.”

The matter is urgent. Everyone is a loser if women are not properly catered for. The big think happening right now creates an opportunity to fix this problem. And if the industry doesn’t fix it, someone else will. As Maciej Partyka, head of global customer insights at Barclaycard, notes at the end of the Kantar report: “In five to ten years, all financial services brands will have to take women more seriously as they will be competing with non-financial services brands which often don’t have ‘male’ legacies and leanings.”

Fiona Rintoul is editorial director at Funds Europe

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