Recently, a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that women are underrepresented in the executive ranks of the financial services industry. In a December 2014 article, Marketwatch highlighted a report by consulting firm Oliver Wyman that showed that among leading financial services firms, 96 percent of financial services CEOs are men and more than 33 percent of executive committees still consist entirely of men. And while the statistics differ per country, it’s interesting to note that in the United States, a mere 16 percent of executive committee members are women.
The significance of these numbers becomes particularly clear when you consider that more than 50 percent of junior employees in the U.S. financial services are female. It’s obvious that for whatever reason, women are having a harder time than their male counterparts making it to senior executive roles.
This awareness is leading some experts to believe that the absence of women in decision-making roles is prohibiting the finance and insurance industry from unlocking market potential for a significant group of consumers: female investors. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 53 percent of women in the U.S., the U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, India, and China who earned at least $100,000 annually or had investable assets of a minimum of $500,000 did not have financial advisors. Of U.S. women who did have financial advisors, almost half claimed they felt misunderstood by them.
These numbers indicate not only a huge market opportunity that’s being missed, but also a disconnect between existing services and what female consumers want. It follows that organizations that have more inclusive cultures, where women are encouraged to succeed and take on leadership roles, are more likely to have an understanding of products and services that will appeal to the female market.
Supporting women in the workplace
Considering that the representation of women in the financial and insurance industry steeply declines concurrently with the seniority of the role, it’s crucial for employers that want to retain female employees and help them advance their careers to foster inclusive workplaces.
Fostering an inclusive workplace involves creating a company culture that’s supportive of women. As Harvard Business Review points out, one way to do this is to offer visibility and leadership development by means of promoting interaction between women in leading roles and those in more junior roles. This can involve establishing mentorship programs for female employees or simply organizing more company events at which female leaders play more prominent roles.
At the same time, company culture should also be supportive of women’s needs. Women are still more likely than men to take career breaks or work fewer hours to raise children. Offering arrangements such as paid pregnancy leave, flex work, and telecommuting can all enable female employees to remain professionally active while still enjoying a good work-life balance, as can enabling women to return to managerial positions after career breaks.
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