Tackling unconscious bias in the financial sector
Mandatory reporting of gender pay gaps could be the start of positive change. Yet perhaps we should begin with a deeper look into why the gap exists in the first place.
In recent times we have seen a great deal of focus on the lack of gender diversity in senior business positions. The world’s major financial institutions and professional services firms have produced some particularly poor results in this area.
Unconscious bias could be a key underlying reason for the lack of promotion or stalling careers of the industry’s women. You only have to look at films such as The Wolf of Wall Street to get a glimpse of the ‘alpha male’ personality type in action. Although the main character in The Devil Wears Prada is a woman, she essentially has an alpha male persona, but is clad in killer heels. The unconscious bias that these types of personalities, more commonly found in men, are best suited to leadership roles is long standing and permeates the very culture of our industry.
Rather than blindly promoting females simply to boost numbers, a conscious decision to achieve more diversity at the top and at every level of an organisation is needed.
A turning point The finance industry is at a crossroads in terms of fintech, artificial intelligence and potential great change in the way we do business. So we have a real opportunity to make the most of the skills of a much more diverse workforce and banish unconscious bias for good.
This can only happen if recruitment strategies from the ground up focus on a wider range of skills and personality types from both genders. Our employment policies will also need to be flexible enough to accommodate their needs. This will require investment in our employees.
For example, women will usually need to take at least some time off from work to have children, so businesses should offer more flexible working conditions. Companies that invest in such areas are likely to be rewarded with longer-term loyalty if employees feel truly valued for their skills, regardless of their gender or family circumstances.
Successfully challenging unconscious bias will not happen overnight. It will almost certainly be harder to achieve in some cultures around the world where it is more deeply ingrained. However, we can all help make a start now by promoting good gender diversity practices across our firms and providing positive female role models in senior positions. The rest will surely follow.