Leader’s Checklist in ‘the walk’ towards Gender Equality

Gender equality has been in the minds of leaders all over the world for a while. Achieving gender balance at the workplace is anything but a simple issue; creating truly inclusive professional environments is an organisation’s major challenge. There is an urgency to address the challenges women face beyond policies and actions. It’s imperative to build work environments that are psychologically safe, where women, minorities and everyone feels encouraged to make decisions without stereotypical connotations or, the prejudices associated with them.

In our surveys Time to Talk: What has to change for women at work and Seeing is Believing: Clearing the barriers to women’s progress in financial services, we explore the attitudes employers want to develop to enable inclusive work environments, and the actions that organisations can take to close the gender gap.

Inclusiveness, among others, can mean a place where women feel they can progress in their careers and climb the ladder to managerial positions; where issues like harassment or gender biases are openly discussed and people can access flexibility programmes without any, or at least less, corporate stigmas.

In this article, we dig deep into the main aspects organisations need to emphasise in their path towards inclusion and gender equality. Ultimately, we want to provide you with a window of opportunity that can differentiate your organisation in the long-term.

Three aspects to consider for women to have equal career opportunities

According to our survey Seeing is Believing, there are three main aspects you should pay attention to when creating a safe and equal environment for women so they can reach their full potential: transparency and trust, active management support and agility.

1) Embed transparency in every inclusion action you implement

Women in financial services (FS) believe in their ability to lead and to succeed; however, whether their aspirations can be met or not, it’s every organisation’s responsibility. Transparency for a diaphanous path to success, and trust for women to feel secure about the existing mechanisms to guarantee they can move forward in their careers, are two unavoidable requirements.

Statements defending diversity and gender equality are no longer enough to convince women that your company is serious about facing inequality. Being open and honest are the best weapons to improve women’s confidence in their career prospects.

According to our studies, creating fair and transparent promotion and appraisal processes are the most important steps employers should take to improve career development opportunities. To support these steps, there should be a clear definition of roles and promotion criteria within the organisation to help employees understand what is needed to reach the next professional level. We recommend monitoring and analysing promotions by department to track progress and measure gender imbalances.

If a majority of men are promoted compared to the gender ratio in the organisation, the system requires an analysis to identify what biases are influencing career advancement. After identifying the source of the issue, business leaders can work on how to make the process equal.

There is another aspect that usually goes unnoticed, the diversity status in itself. Indeed, many organisations have programmes promoting diversity and inclusion though this might be causing more harm than good. This statistic is worrying: more than half of women working in FS believe that the diversity status can be a barrier to career progression. It highlights a possible gap between what employers say and what employees believe.

A couple of interesting stats affecting transparency and trust

When doing the research, we also raised questions about the organisations’ cultures and values. For the past two years, 60% of women felt their opinions were ignored during a meeting. While discrimination continues to be an issue, incidents of bullying and harassment continue to run high.

More than 80% of women working in financial services are confident about fulfilling their professional objectives. The most important, they said, is the proper balance between their personal and professional lives, proving that flexibility is an essential factor to their evolution

Organisations need to understand the impact of these numbers. It’s highly unlikely women’s trust can be won if the organisation accepts or overlooks similar behaviours. Changing the organisation’s culture and the existing disciplinary procedures can greatly help demonstrate women that their concerns are taken seriously into account.

Similarly, the fear to speak out must be abolished; on the contrary, organisations should create safe mechanisms to encourage it.

2) Make active management support available

For women, it’s important to have both formal and informal support networks. While they are well developed for men working in financial services, it isn’t the case for women. As our survey shows, women are less proactive when asking for a promotion or they tend to refuse roles when they feel they don’t meet the expected criteria. Women continue feeling that organisations value men differently and more positively. They also consider there’s a lack of support and understanding of the different skill sets women can offer.

The board’s buy-in, deployed in such ways that future leaders are identified without biases and mentorship programmes available, opens up the space for women to reach their professional fulfilment. In fact, reassuring and supportive mentors that future women leaders can learn from, play a pivotal role as talent advocates, career drivers and coaches that encourage women to speak-up for themselves and make better decisions for their careers.

3) Be Agile 

Having family responsibilities is still a factor that has a negative connotation in the professional environment. Many organisations’ team managers consider it a “career-blocker” or a “career-delayer” and family responsibilities extend beyond having children ; it means taking care of older relatives too.

Implementing flexible working policies that work for both you and your employees can turn the tide. “Decriminalise” the fact that certain employees are in need of re-organising their lives around their families. This a direct positive short-term consequence of such policies. In the long-term, it’s an organisation’s cultural change. The reality is that most women in FS report that organisations are making flexible work available but they still feel it can harm their careers.

Biases increase once women have children. In our survey, 63% of respondents expect women to be the main caregivers. This increases employers’ biases against women taking more managerial responsibilities.

The nagging fear women feel about assuming family responsibilities is a reminder that gender equality actions that organisations have already taken aren’t enough yet. A way around this situation is introducing the notion of “agile” ways of working, or the above-mentioned “agile” approach. A shift towards this is a useful way to confront stereotypes.

Ultimately, implementing flexible work shouldn’t only be motivated by personal circumstances. As digital will expand and further develop in the upcoming years, flexibility goes beyond a professional-personal life balance; it’s an expectation of young and future generations that will join the workforce.

Are you doing enough?

According to our survey, it’s clear that the pace of closing the gender gap in financial services is steady but slow. However, there is a need for companies to re-orient policies and transform attitudes and culture to create a more gender-equal organisation. What did we learn from this article?

  • Transparency and trust are essential to turn “the talk” about diversity and inclusion into “the walk”, a reality where transparent appraisal and promotion processes aren’t a differentiating factor but a business standard.
  • Giving equal opportunities to women to develop their professional networks, fostering opportunities for professional growth and developing mentoring programmes are next on the list. You are aiming at a key goal: building trust in your organisation.
  • Promoting flexible working arrangements is a game changer to help organisations achieve gender equality. We all should accept that working helps fulfil professional aspirations, but we also have familiar duties and goals. By applying this measurement, you show that your organisation understands the need to find personal and professional life balance.

To finish off, we propose you ask yourself these questions:

  • What should you ask yourself when your organisation is ready to lower the barriers to progression of women in FS?
  • Are you doing enough to ensure women believe they can succeed in your company?
  • Do women feel safe when reporting harassment and discrimination? How do you know?
  • Do you keep track of gender balance related to promotions and key assignments so you can identify gender-biases?

If you can develop clear answers to these questions, it means your business is well on its way to create a more inclusive environment. And guess what? You can only gain from it. If you take action and help women achieve their full potential, it will give your business a powerful edge in the FS labour market and make you stand out in the mist of all the other brands.

What we think
Sidonie Braud, Partner at PwC Luxembourg

There are more and more women in the Financial Sector, whether at senior leadership position or just starting out and …that is great. However, feminisation does not mean equality; at least women in the FS don’t feel it as much as in other industries. They believe and we believe that employers could take very simple concrete actions to improve women’s career opportunities and we see that the biggest companies are already walking this path. To do so, buy-in and the support and involvement of all of us, men and women, are crucial to co- create a fair and equal working environment where anyone has equal chances to progress, an environment where being a woman is not an additional difficulty, an environment where women are not suffering inappropriate language or behaviours. Are we all ready to change?

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