The International Monetary Fund recently published a new study on the intersection of gender and finance, citing that women were underrepresented as both users of financial services and as leaders in financial institutions. The study suggests that greater inclusion of women, including as regulators of financial services, would have great advantages beyond addressing gender inequality, including more stability in the banking system.
Friday, March 8 marks International Women’s Day. This year’s campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter focuses on driving a more gender-balanced approach to the working world.
Before my time at Thomson Reuters, I worked in various roles across the branch network for a number of banks in the UK. I worked in predominantly female teams, and yes, at times I was the woman with the sunny disposition on the cashier’s desk. What I learned quickly (and through the encouragement of a rather charismatic female mentor) was that being on the frontline was the perfect opportunity to speak with customers, carry out due diligence, and understand customers’ transactional behaviors.
I was soon processing more Suspicious Activity Reports than I originally anticipated. Perhaps now is the right moment to apologize to the banks’ Money Laundering Reporting Officer for the additional paperwork!
Cost of Compliance
With a growing interest in financial crime and compliance, I began to research industry organizations and found the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment, which offered a module on UK Financial Regulation that was the perfect place to start studying for a role in compliance.
In preparation for my role at Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence, I read the team’s latest annual report on the Cost of Compliance. The survey represents the industry’s thinking and allows compliance practitioners to benchmark their firms’ practices. I was curious. What struck me was the magnitude of financial implications of misconduct in firms — not only in headline-worthy record fines, but in the investment required for senior compliance staff, increasing regulatory burden, and the rise of personal liability. Clearly, the authors were onto something.
Being surrounded by an accomplished team of experts with more than 100 years combined experience in the compliance industry — from former regulators, auditors, and university lecturers — has certainly motivated me and continues to do so in my work today.
The UK Financial Conduct Authority reported the main drivers of their own gender pay gap are under-representation of women in more senior, technical, and managerial roles, and over-representation of women in administrative roles. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can relate to this. In banking I felt a sense of hierarchy, where women were often the face of the bank, dealing with administrative tasks and interacting with customers.
Moving into a compliance environment, however, this has fortunately faded. Whether you are male, female, junior, or senior, every team member is valued, sharing ideas on the best approaches to addressing key and emerging regulatory themes, and continually being encouraged to learn. Working in an environment like this means there are no barriers. The team feels balanced, and we have a high staff retention rate to prove it.
What Holds Us Back?
That said, despite all the support I continue to receive, being part of such an accomplished team of strong female leaders can, at times, feel daunting. According to Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Penguin Random House, US, 2013), the impostor syndrome can influence both men and women. It is women, however, who tend to experience it more intensely and are more limited by it. “For women, feeling like a fraud is a symptom of [a] greater problem. We consistently underestimate ourselves,” Sandberg wrote, adding that when women evaluate themselves in stereotypically male domains, their underestimations can become more pronounced.
In my experience, a firm with a culture of shared values, which provides the freedom to learn and grow, empowers not only women but everyone. Opportunities offered, from open conversations and in-house coaching programs to courses on new strategies to navigate structural barriers faced by many women, have assisted me throughout my compliance career.
In my experience, a firm with a culture of shared values, which provides the freedom to learn and grow, empowers not only women but everyone.
A review commissioned by HM Treasury in June 2015 on women in financial services found 23% female representation on corporate boards, but only 14% on Executive Committees (which tended to be in corporate and support functions such as communications, legal, and compliance). More recently, the Investment Association has warned it would apply a red alert to the UK’s top firms if there are none or only one woman on the board. A shift in balance is overdue.
The International Labour Office (ILO) underscored the importance of supporting women’s representation, participation, and leadership in decision-making in its World Employment Social Outlook on Trends for Women 2017, stating “…in order to challenge occupational and sectorial segregation, women must be in a position to influence and shape workplaces… .” Among other improvements, the ILO suggested additional measures such as training and mentorship as a means of improving women’s participation.
In 2016, The Prince’s Trust launched its initiative, Women Supporting Women. Despite their broad focus across all industries, their mission is stated simply as “to provide the right help to nurture, empower, and inspire young women to build their own futures through employment, self-employment, education, or training.”
Initiatives like these are what I believe can challenge the inequity in gender roles in financial services.
From once being the face on the banking floor, to the older, slightly wiser compliance professional I am today — though, who admittedly from time to time has moments of impostor syndrome — it is training and shared understanding that has helped nurture my development.
I hope others can relate and target gender imbalance as an opportunity for change as we enter a time where these roles and our industries are challenged. Hopefully soon, we all will finally see #BalanceForBetter.