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Women in Finance – Ensuring Equality and Inclusion

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Anne Williams, chief operating officer at Henry Howard Finance, discusses her role at the firm and how it aims to ensure equality and inclusion throughout its workplace, while also looking at some of the women leading the way in the world of finance and exploring the steps being taken to diversify a sector that has been traditionally dominated by men.

Think of finance and it’s easy to conjure up images of complicated spreadsheets, lofty, city-centre buildings and – stereotypically – men in grey suits.

And, in spite of more women than men starting out in financial services at graduate and entry-level roles, the majority fall out, in particular at the middle management level. That’s according to the Women in Finance report, an extensive review by the UK Treasury, which found that in Britain women account for only 23 per cent of board members and just 14 per cent of executive committee members in regulated financial services companies. [i]

(C) Huw John, Cardiff.

It’s a picture that is reflected globally; in 2016, women made up 25.5 per cent of senior roles, compared to 23.7 per cent in 2014.[1]

However, the direction of this trend means that the stereotype of finance being a male-dominated industry is slowly changing, a perspective encouraged by the fact that some of the most influential people in global financial services are women.

Christine Lagarde enjoys a high international profile, having held ministerial office in the French government and has headed up the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 2011 – the first woman to do so. During her political career, she was the first woman to hold the finance portfolio of a G8 economy.

Lesser known globally is Janet Yellen, who is chair of the Federal Reserve in the US and last year oversaw a budget of $4,116.6 million.

As executive chair of the Santander Group, Ana Patricia Botin is the first woman to head the Eurozone’s largest bank, following on from her role as CEO of the bank’s UK operations.

Botin, together with Lagarde and Yellen, featured in the top ten of Forbes’ most powerful women last year – a testament to their standing not just in the financial services sector, but more widely in society.

So there are women in finance – and in senior positions – but not yet in equal measure. It’s something that Jayne Anne Gadhia has been tasked with looking at by the UK Treasury.

Gadhia, herself, is a trailblazer. She began her career in accountancy in the early 1980s Twenty-five years later, she became CEO of Virgin Money, a role she still holds today. Her credentials in the industry made her an ideal candidate to carry out the Women in Finance review into diversity in financial services.

Following that review, a charter was drawn up which has since been voluntarily signed by almost 150 businesses, committing them, amongst other ideals, to supporting the progression of women into senior roles and pledging to promote gender diversity by publishing progress annually.

Diversity in the workplace is something we are committed to at Henry Howard Finance, and we plan to sign the charter before the end of the year as our next step to ensuring equality in our workplace. Aside from my position on the board of directors and as chief operating officer, we are proud that women have and continue to play a significant role throughout our divisions. In our retail team, Sarah Freeman heads up a team of 11 salespeople and within our internal operations, women lead the pay-out, customer services, human resources and own-book teams. Of our office-based staff, our gender split is almost equal, with 48 per cent female employees.

While we are proud of this statistic we don’t rest on our laurels, and know that more can be done not just internally, but across the industry. Highlighting the success of women in financial roles is key to providing the inspiration that can lead to a new generation of female leaders.

[1] https://ig.ft.com/managements-missing-women-data/?mhq5j=e5

[i] https://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/women-in-finance/