Corporate America is best defined as the world of corporations and “big business.” For centuries, we have witnessed a maledominated world of products, goods and services drive and sustain the lives of U.S. consumers.
Despite breakthrough legislation that was enacted nearly 100 years ago to provide employment opportunities and equal pay for the fairer sex, women are still not kindly received in the financial sector. To help remedy this, a group of Wall Street women called Financial Women’s Association (FWA) was formed in 1956. Their goal was to advance professionalism in finance and in the financial services industry with special emphasis on the role and development of women, to attain greater recognition for women’s achievements in business, and to encourage women to seek career opportunities in finance and business.
Still a force to be reckoned with, the FWA celebrates its 60th year on the wings of female bankers, brokers, traders, management consultants, financial analysts, portfolio managers and economists. Having as much success as this organization and others do to aid women in the workforce, why is the financial sector of corporate America still experiencing a very wide and visible gender imbalance?
Oliver Wyman, a financial services company, surveyed 150 financial institutions worldwide and found over one-third of the companies were entirely male. Thirteen percent employed women, but only 4 percent had a female CEO. Research did indicate female representation is growing on financial services boards by 20 percent, as compared to 15 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2003. Only 16 percent of executive committees and 14 percent of these boards were entirely male in 2013 in contrast to 20 percent in 2008 and 29 percent in 2003.
Similar data from Pricewaterhousecoopers, an accounting firm, shows women comprise nearly 60 percent of employees in the financial services industry across global markets, but only 19 percent progressed through the leadership ranks to senior-level roles. Furthermore, women hold only 14 percent of board seats and 2 percent of CEO positions.
Bridging this gap is so imperative since global studies show women control $12 trillion out of the $18.4 trillion total in consumer discretionary spending. In addition, women, who head one third of U.S. households, control 50 percent of private wealth in the U.S. In the long run, financial institutions will struggle to understand and win over this sophisticated demographic without more women in leadership.
Solutions to this ongoing epidemic are simple; however, certain pressures need to be placed on financial institutions to compel these steps to be implemented and actualized.
Companies can do a few things to encourage women in the financial sector to begin applying for leadership roles:
- Increase the number of high-level roles available to women to decrease the number of women who leave a company due to the inability to advance.
- Identify high-performing women within the organization to fill mid-level and senior positions.
- Develop clear requirements for future women leaders who are ready to advance to high-level positions within the organization.
- Openly discuss and define unintentional discrimination that takes place, causing senior executives to fill leadership positions with more men than women.
- Create environments for men to lend more support to women advancing in leadership.
- Appoint high-performing women to assignments in visible roles for skill-building.
Aligning women candidates with mentors supports learning, and networking will help fill major competency gaps. More mentorship programs to carry out these goals should be created for women who desire to become leaders in the financial sector.
The San Francisco chapter of the FWA supports two mentorship programs. Its peer-to-peer program pairs members of the Financial Women of San Francisco (FWSF) with fellow members who share similar job responsibilities, career aspirations and industry experience. The primary goal is for peers to help each other become more successful by providing support, advice, coaching and referrals.
FWSF also supports a student-mentoring program that provides scholarship recipients with career development and professional direction in the financial industry. For women who have an interest in finance, the FWSF scholarship fund provides graduate and undergraduate scholarships to San Francisco Bay area women pursuing careers in finance and financial services.