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Women in Finance: Equality demands that maternity and family be put at the heart of business

24th April 2015

The Prosperity programme at ResPublica is currently planning a series of events looking at culture change within financial services. Building on the success of ResPublica’s recent publication, Virtuous Banking: Placing ethos and purpose at the heart of finance, which reviewed the way in which the banking industry governs itself and explored how the financial sector could be made more responsible.

One of the themes which we believe need to be developed in order to restore virtue to banking and finance is a culture of personal development and responsibility. Understanding and addressing the unique problems and challenges women face in the industry is one area where we can start.

The issues affecting women in the financial services have long been identified from pay gaps, workplace harassment, and unfair distribution of work to maternity discrimination. While equality legislation and cultural movements have all played an important part in reaching a consensus that such treatment is unacceptable, it still falls to businesses themselves to see that such rules are implemented to the spirit, not just the letter.

Had I unlimited time and money, I would love to explore whether there is a justifiable business case to be made for businesses in financial services to ensure that women are nurtured as a vital part of the workforce. After all, women who leave because of the unique pressures that they face represent lost investment and talent. This is supported by statistics showing that while 50% of recruits to the sector are women, only a few reach the top. Only 16 FTSE 100 companies have a female executive director.

We need to address the residual issues affecting women in finance, from ‘parenthood’ gaps to problems with supply chain demand that prevents women from pursuing top jobs and the a culture that does not value the whole person.

Ensuring pro-rata annual bonus calculations for women returning from maternity leave and increasing awareness of the peer group salary benchmark are just some of the existing measures that can surely be built on. Although ultimately policies that support flexible work patterns for both women and men are also going to play a big part in the way that work in turn supports families.

For anyone reading, it would be great to hear from women in the financial services industry about their experiences and recommendations for concrete next steps businesses could take based upon them.

Both business and society should look at how the workplace can support and value both maternity and family life, for both men and women, so that employees are able to flourish and build structures that add value to our country’s civic life.

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