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Women in the Financial Services Industry

In The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson tells the human story about the evolution of the world’s financial system, noting that “the ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of man.”

Indeed.

In June 2016, global management consultancy, Oliver Wyman, released its second paper on women’s progress in the world’s financial services sector. The report, which includes an analysis of 381 financial services organisations globally, including South Africa, found that at current progress, executive committees in the global financial services industry will only reach 30% female representation in 2046. Oliver Wyman Managing Partner, Ted Moynihan comments: “The global financial services industry is far from where it should be. The low representation of women on executive committees, in particular, is a problem because key strategic decisions are made here.

Research suggests that the ‘golden’ 30% statistic is the proportion when critical mass is reached and when the voices of the minority group become heard in their own right. It is a figure companies across the world aspire to, and also the driver behind the creation of the UK-based 30% Club. Similar to the South African ‘Women on Boards’ programme, this club was formed in 2010 with the aim to achieve a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards.

South African women working in the local financial services industry say that when it comes to contributing to the success of a business, women are able to hold their own on a number of levels. Ronel Loader, a risk manager at Sanlam Investments says there are many ways in which women contribute to the success of businesses. “While women are very knowledgeable and competitive, I think it’s our structured approach that can make the biggest difference when meeting a company’s strategic objectives.”

Better decision-making through different perspectives is another widely cited benefit to achieving a corporate gender balance. Qhubekile Segabi’s approach to her career as a portfolio manager at Mvunonala Asset Managers demonstrates this well. “In my twelve years in the financial services sector, I’ve seen the impact of the financial crisis and I’ve learned that there are different ways to solve the financial market’s problems. Through self-imposed research I’ve sought alternative ways to value financial instruments.”

Fatima Vawda, managing director at 27four Investment Managers, says that the big difference is in the roles that men and women play: “Unfortunately the back office and business development is biased towards women whereas the ratio of women to men within portfolio management, for example is 1:6. Women are also poorly represented at board level and hold insignificant ownership rights.”

Fatima says the challenge is to transcend the role of women from the “softer” positions of marketing and human resources to that of stock selection, portfolio construction and risk management. “The South African government understands that an unequal nation leads to unsustainable outcomes and supports the progression of women through legislation such as the Financial Sector Codes. This is a powerful tool that asset owners such as retirement funds can use to exert pressure on the industry to improve gender biases. We are beginning to see evidence of this within the industry.”

The Wyman paper further asserts that for women in the global financial services industry, there are lessons to be learned from the US military. “To maintain a strong pipeline of female leaders, all roles must be made available to women, and organisations must recognise that its future leaders need equal opportunity to grasp the necessary “golden hand-holds” to rise up the ranks. In the US military, these take the form of getting someone qualified in special skills, educated at the prestigious military strategy schools, operationally deployed and ultimately selected for operational command. The financial services industry has different “golden hand-holds” but they are equally critical to the leadership ascent.”

Florence de Vries is a communications manager in the financial services industry.

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