Women at the top have a multiplier effect

Finance jobs: Women are still underrepresented in career-relevant business areas. (iStock photo)


At entry-level, there is no gender gap in the financial services workforce. Women make up just over half of the industry’s workforce.1 But then, their representation falls off at every step of the corporate ladder. Conscious support from employers, role models, and improved framework conditions such as more flexible workplace cultures in place in the aftermath of the pandemic should, however, help more women reach leadership roles in finance.


The proportion of women on executive committees in major financial services firms hovered around 20 percent globally in 2019, with Israel and Australia in the lead – over a third, a study by Oliver Wyman shows. Switzerland comes below the global average at 17 percent. “We are still in the middle of a transition phase when it comes to gender equality in general, which will likely go on for some more years,” comments Mirjam Staub-Bisang, who heads Blackrock Switzerland since 2018. At the top, among C-suite executives, the figure drops to 6 percent among CEOs of financial institutions listed within the S&P 500 index. When looking at all types of C-titles, including relatively new roles such as Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and Chief Talent Officer, the proportion of women reaches nearly a third, according to a Deloitte study that looked at 107 US-based financial institutions .


Conscious efforts required

“Companies need to make a conscious effort on hiring, developing, supporting, and retaining female talents if they want to improve on gender diversity. They need to help women to progress through challenging phases in their careers, especially in their 30s and 40s, and on retaining women in senior roles,” says Staub-Bisang. To reach the top, and “stand a chance in becoming CEO, women need to be given the chance to succeed in commercially relevant line roles; it is much harder to make it to the top from non-commercial functions like General Counsel, Human Resources, or Compliance,” she underlines.


Swiss banks take action to support their female employees

“Overall, the participation rate of women in the financial industry is significantly higher today than 20 years ago, yet when we look at the representation of women in leadership positions, the picture is still quite grim. And in this respect, there is a striking difference between Anglo-Saxon, in particular American, and Swiss companies in the industry. The former are more ambitious on their journey to achieve gender equality,” Staub-Bisang notes. Switzerland’s two largest banks – UBS and Credit Suisse – are both well aware of the issue. UBS targets to raise the proportion of senior employees (director level or above) from 26 percent in 2022 to 30 percent by 2025. The equivalent figure at Credit Suisse was 28 percent in 2020. Switzerland’s second-largest bank aims to increase the overall proportion of women in their workforce from 39 percent in 2020 to 42 percent by 2024.


Diverse teams improve the decision-making process

Companies with a diverse workforce and management team tend to be more innovative and productive, enhances the customer service and have a better risk management, a long list of studies show. “Women in the financial industry are also likely to be more loyal to their employer, to their teams and to their clients. Diverse boards have also been found to promote greater diversity and resilience in the leadership team and the workforce more broadly, and ultimately enable companies to better respond to the needs of their stakeholders and deliver long-term shareholder value,” Staub-Bisang underlines.


Mentalities evolve slowly but surely

The Swiss family model remains rather traditional, and conservative compared to Anglo-Saxon countries. The tax penalty imposed on married double-income couple earners is one hurdle. Many women also give up their job or only work part-time once they become mothers due the lack of affordable childcare and the social stigma attached to full-time working mothers. “Talented and ambitious women [thus] prefer to work for international companies over local [Swiss] ones if they perceive the former to provide a more fertile ground for a successful career. They want to see a fair representation of women across the ranks and in leadership positions,” explains Staub-Bisang. Mentalities are nevertheless slowly but surely evolving, and the pandemic has unintentionally been a boon for women in the financial services industry. “The extended period of working from home and in virtual settings provided a lot of insight into how we can adapt work conditions in companies to help women thrive and advance in their careers to progress to more gender diversity in financial services across the ranks,” she adds.


Top women’s multiplier effect

Women serving in C-suite roles matter, as their presence at the top have a multiplier effect in financial services institutions. “Each woman added to the C-suite led three more women being added to senior leadership… Firms with women in the C-suite have almost double the number of women board members than those that do not,” according to another Deloitte study. Staub-Bisang’s personal experience support the study’s findings: “When I was a young lawyer back in the days, I was offered employment by a number of leading law firms. Not surprisingly, I opted for the one where I was interviewed by a female partner, nota bene the only one.”


52%  Women in the Workplace 2021, McKinsey, Sept 2021 

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