The Treasury Committee held its first oral evidence session for the ‘Sexism in the City’ campaign today (17 October) which aims to tackle the obstacles women face in the financial industry.
The panel included Baroness Helena Morrissey, chair of the Diversity project; Fiona Mackenzie, CEO of The Other Half, Alesha De-Freitas, head of policy, research and advocacy for the Fawcett Society; and Mark Freed, CEO of Ee2W and Men for Inclusion. The group discussed the Treasury Committee’s inquiry which found almost no change in the status of women in the industry since their last report in 2018, and what could be catalysts for change.
According to statistics by the Diversity Project, only 12% of fund managers are women in the UK, with the Diversity Project reporting “almost no improvement” in this figure “over the past three decades”. The committee discussed some of the issues hampering any progression – namely the culture of the financial industry.
“The city institutionally is founded on a power imbalance. And the culture still operates in such a way that bonuses, promotions and career progression is generally not transparent,” De-Freitas said.
“When there is a power imbalance and becomes so entrenched in a culture, it makes it very difficult for women to understand what they need to do to progress and how they can dismantle these barriers.”
One of the areas which has found some positive influence on supporting women in the workplace surrounds hybrid policies. The Diversity Project, through from Redington, reported that while workplaces without flexible in-office policies averaged 12% of women in investment teams, those with flexible policies averaged 23%.
“The working pattern favours a male default. When I started my career, it was a lot of men who didn’t see their children Monday to Friday,” The Other Half’s Mackenzie said.
“Working patterns, promotions based on how much time employees spent in the organisation, sudden travel, the tendency to work long hours, not wanting to say no to clients – none of this fits well with women who need to collect their child from nursery or who need to say ‘I can’t work today’.”
De-Freitas the challenges that face women as they balance having children with careers. She emphasised the importance of researching women in “feeder careers” which would eventually lead to higher-up positions in companies.
“What the evidence shows is that leap into middle management is particularly problematic. It is often the career change that comes around the time people are having families, around the time there are competing demands on their time,” De-Freitas said.
“I think if you are primarily focused on the number of women that get to the top step, you end up with a real wall for the best women who are already performing at that level. Which is brilliant for women at that level, but that doesn’t lead you back to that culture change and it doesn’t lead you back into thinking, ‘how can this sector work for everyone?’”
The Diversity Project has launched two campaigns which coincide with the ‘Sexism in the City’ agenda, namely the Pathway Programme, which is a one-year programme for women with the goal of becoming fund managers, and the Safe Space Campaign, which serves as a supplement to harassment reporting mechanisms within companies and allows reports through an online platform.
“There is a strange gap in perception between how men see the workplace and how women see the workplace,” Morrissey said.
“On average, men think it’s a fair place and women don’t. This lack of understanding between men and women on what we’re actually dealing with is a problem.”
The Safe Space campaign was launched in late May in a response to the investigations of Crispin Odey and CBI. It has received 17 reports to date, which have surrounded the themes of abuse of power, difficulty in coming forward, difficulty in addressing bad apples, micro-aggressions, sexual harassment, tension with differing perspectives on gender equality, and poorly handled issues with mental health, neurodiversity and disabilities.
“Even when a complaint is upheld, the sanctions often err on the side of leniency, so ‘bad apples’ are put back in the system and there is no deterrent for others,” Morrissey said.
“The regulators can help here. The FCA’s rules around individual conduct are very broad and firms apply them inconsistently and don’t specify anything regarding personal conduct.”