By Alyona Lamash, Director and Head of Risk Management Practice, Exactpro Systems
Addressing the gender gap problem continues to be a widely discussed topic across the financial services industry, arguably because it is one of the sectors that is in need of immediate action. According to global data from the United Nations, the Covid-19 pandemic, which shifted our working routines and everyday aspects of our lives, impacted women in particular who have taken on more unpaid work and could set back 25 years of increasing gender equality.
However, although there is still much to be done, recent reports also show that the financial services industry is, at last, making some considerable progress on gender balance in the workforce. For example, in April 2017, new legislation came into force that required all companies residing in the United Kingdom (UK) with 250 or more employees to provide specific data regarding the gender pay gap in their respective organization in a bid to increase transparency and further promote equality. A pre-pandemic Oliver Wyman study, conducted in 2020 across 468 companies in 37 countries and jurisdictions, reported that the financial services industry is now making the fastest progress comparatively on increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles since the consulting firm began measuring such trends back in 2003. Though this trend overall was hindered by the pandemic, the financial services and software and IT industries, according to the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, seem to counter the impact.
At Exactpro, a firm I’ve been a part of for over a decade – since its foundation – I have witnessed first-hand how women, organically and based solely on their leadership and technical skills, have come a long way to head our strategic business lines. Exactpro’s key revenue generating divisions (including the testing services for global exchanges division, and the distributed ledger (DLT) division, among others) are led by women – who, noteworthy, have joined Exactpro in junior roles and succeeded.
Numbers aren’t everything
As we look ahead to the future, I personally think that numbers, i.e., the exact proportion of female versus male in the workforce, is almost certainly not key to the problem – the problem resides much more with cognitive biases.
Although, objectively speaking, biases are an important cognitive mechanism that evolved in humans to help us process the information more efficiently, – forming judgments based on the qualities of a group rather than individual is damaging for both society and business.
For example, if men are seen as a specific group possessing particular qualities or skills, we risk overlooking strong individual talents. Equally, when recognizing a woman’s achievements, despite good intentions, we often mark them as a particular group and frame promotions or new hires along diversity lines. As a result, we run the risk of diminishing the individual’s achievement and talents.
Closing the gap
So, how can progress continue to be made? Even though there is no one exclusive way to address the gender gap for all companies, I do believe that knowledge sharing, and education can improve and increase possibilities for young women to develop and grow in all professional areas, even in those traditionally dominated by males, such as financial services and information technology. At Exactpro, for instance, approximately 33% of all employees are women, which reflects the current proportion of female technology talent available on the market. While this overall share is hard to influence without tampering with objective hiring procedures, a higher percentage of women (over 40%) among the Exactpro management team is indicative of a healthy corporate environment allowing female experts to develop professionally. Mentorship programs, actively encouraging dialogue in the workplace, and sharing real-life experiences with colleagues are invaluable to promote this growth.
Another way to work towards closing the gap is through community and networking initiatives. In-person and/or online events to connect, educate, and empower women not only inspire the future generations, but provide a sense of community to current ones. By advocating for women to pursue careers in technology or finance through collaboration with universities, the industry will be able to attract young talent, and by organizing professional events and technology meetups with both internal and external female speakers, firms will be able to empower those who are already in the profession.
Over the recent years, the industry has for sure created a strong narrative around the issue of diversity, inclusion and gender pay. Now that the problem has been acknowledged, it is important that those efforts yield tangible results.