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Diversity and financial services

01/08/13

The financial services sector in the UK is struggling from a lack of gender diversity, especially at the senior management level, according to several recent reports.

While the oft-repeated, largely meaningless assertion that the financial crisis might not have happened if the industry's trading culture had been driven by female intuition rather than machismo does not stand up to scrutiny, there are problems with this imbalance.

Numerous metrics have shown that diverse firms tend to out-perform their homogeneous counterparts, especially when it comes to innovation and product development.

With this in mind, the financial services sector should be concerned by studies such as the one released by the University of Exeter and the Financial Services Knowledge Transfer Network in March of this year.

Professor Michelle Ryan from the organisation's psychology department pointed out that, despite  strong levels of diversity throughout financial services organisations, the majority of executives and managers tend to be male.

"This report draws on the experiences of staff in the industry and on academic research to reveal the multiple sources of barriers to gender equality," she added.

Exeter's research suggested that introducing initiatives such as leadership or diversity training can encourage more women to go for top jobs; however, it also argued that changing organisational culture to ensure it is female-friendly is also crucial.

Barriers highlighted by respondents to the study included issues of work-life balance, a lack of role models and mentors, stereotypes and unconscious bias, and a general fear of not fitting in at the executive level.

With potential diversity benefits ranging from cost saving on recruitment to improved ways to meet the different needs of customers, it is clear the industry needs to develop systems that help women fulfil their career potential.

One firm that has attempted to do this is Barclays, which operated numerous policies aimed at driving up diversity levels.

"From the boardroom to our branches, it’s about creating an inclusive culture where everyone works together to deliver the right solutions for our customers and clients," the organisation declared.

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