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The Wolf Whistle of Wall Street

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Harry Twort Women In Finance

*Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The fictional (but based on a real memoir) “The Wolf of Wall Street,” was an unpleasant businessman whose attitude to women would not pass muster in the #metoo era.  And although we might console ourselves with the notion that it was different back then, in truth, we know that attitudes to women in the City and Finance generally, while improving, have historically been much the same as on Wall Street.

In 2016, the charity Business in the Community noted that over half of women in finance reported bullying in the previous three years and 12% said they had been sexual harassed. A study by the FT into other areas of finance supported this, with 28% having experienced harassment and an additional 54% being “the subject of inappropriate behaviour.”

In July this year, Cranfield School of Management published a report showing the acute shortage of female executives in the most senior roles at Britain’s biggest companies, with fewer than 10% of execs on FTSE 100 boards being women. But surely the figure is much higher?  The Hampton-Alexander review* shows that in 2018 29% of FTSE boards are women.  That looks better, but, as the Cranfield report notes, many of these are non-execs and the reality is that the real power brokers are almost all men.

Critically, Cranfield’s figure of 10% has been more or less the same for the past four years. Similarly, another FT survey, in 2017, showed that the number of women at the very top of finance was only growing very slowly.  The obvious conclusion is that the pipeline of future female talent is either not being made use of and/or, for a variety of reasons, simply does not contain enough ambitious women coming through the ranks into the upper echelons of the financial world.

Certainly, when we look at the finance sector specifically, women form the majority at the lower pay grades, around 25% at senior level but a small minority at C-Suite level. Other countries have imposed quotas to try to address this, but this in itself is contentious as (surely?) everyone, male or female, wants to be promoted for their ability, not for “political” reasons.

Another recent article, in World Finance in April this year, asks “how can managers make women see these senior roles as achievable and encourage more women into them?”  It proffers five solutions: shouting about women’s success (overcoming female modesty); women being more confident about applying for senior roles; women taking more risks, especially in terms of their personal development; highlighting female role models (a bit of a catch-22 this one due to the paucity of women at the top); and, finally, teaching finance and technology at a younger age – something with which the country’s education system at secondary and tertiary level has struggled for decades.

In May, Hampton-Alexander lacerated male bosses “for using pitiful and patronising excuses to keep women off boards.”  This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the number of women in senior management is not increasing fast enough, and, sadly, some anecdotal evidence suggests that sexism continues to be common.  And just to illustrate this, after one of the articles cited in this blog, there was the following comment.. from a man…

“Tosh. Women and men will make it in any industry if they really want to. I personally have never needed a role model. The first person in our industry could not have had a role model. Maybe this article is not meant to be serious?”

There is clearly some way to go...


* The Hampton-Alexander Review was launched two years ago and charged with quantifying the gender representation on the boards of listed companies. Their target is for boardrooms to be 33% female by 2020.