Bridging the Gender Gap and Advocating for Advancement, Starting with Yourself

Topics: ACAMS, Diversity, Financial Crime, Financial Fraud & Anti-Money Laundering, Fraud, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Although women comprise more than half the workforce in financial institutions, they continue to lag behind their male counterparts in leadership roles, sometimes considerably so. In fact, women still represent only 29% of executive- and senior-level managers and 2% of CEOs in the financial industry.

These firms don’t just stand to lose out on talent, they face being increasingly out of touch with activist shareholders and consumers (think of the number of women heads of households and those earning an equal income), and in violation of legislative efforts that are demanding a greater number of women in senior corporate roles.

Recent research by McKinsey & Co. shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to demonstrate superior value creation. Credit Suisse’s study on the topic showed that between 2012 and 2014, large companies ($10 billion in market cap or more) with at least one woman on the board of directors outperformed other large companies by five percentage points on a sector-neutral basis. These trends cannot be assumed to be a byproduct of attrition, as there is about an equal attrition rate between the genders, except for the most senior positions.

Please come to the “Women’s Leadership Perspective” panel at the ACAMS conference in Hollywood, FL, on April 15 to hear from female executives about having a seat at the C-suite table — and to add your voice to the discussion.

As they advance through their careers, women start to lost ground; early on, when women are in their first five years of their careers, women are 24% less likely to attain their first promotion than their male peers. And women of color are 34% less likely to make their first promotion than men in financial services.

Some of the reasons for the discrepancy include: (i) working in an organization that does not appreciate a woman’s scheduling needs in terms of childcare; (ii) lack of confidence in speaking up about aspirations and actively seeking them; and (iii) a lack of mentors or sponsors in leadership roles to motivate and counsel women in their careers.

To get past some of these career roadblocks, firms must do their part, from offering more flexible work scheduling and work-from-home options, helping to create mentoring programs, and actively seeking to address gender-based discrepancies in managerial, top executive, and board-level roles.

Women can help themselves too, from seeking out companies that are actively trying to promote women to higher-level positions to accessing the necessary skills needed to climb the career ladder. Also, women ought to make sure there is a way to make these acquired skills and credentials known to the right people, too — maybe by finding someone who will tout such accomplishments.

Women should consider finding sponsors in their organizations that are committed to sharing their best practice pointers, will remind them of the training and certifications that could augment their credentials, introduce them to influential persons in the industry, and just help with some tried-and-true confidence-building. A sponsor can be a man or a woman, in the same department or not; it’s just someone who believes in your abilities and reminds you how to sell them and grow them.

When a job goes south, women should consider whether they should leave the firm — especially if things are highly unlikely to improve — and make sure they have sufficient documentation to showcase their efforts to do their jobs well and protect the business, plus any and all evidence of any abusive or inequitable treatment by anyone at the company. One side-note to the documentation effort: That does not mean criticizing the business on social media, in public forums, or to others within the industry — it’s a small world, and there’s nothing like negative news to travel faster and further than expected.

At the end of the day, consider this: Women are 50.8% of the population, are earning more degrees in higher education, and living longer than men. These statistics are just begging for the little nudges that will continue to move the ball toward true parity at the top.