Practice Management

You can take steps to improve women’s access to leadership roles

By Beatrice Paez |

It is widely known that women are poorly represented in leadership positions in the financial services sector. And women are not going to be able to change that situation based solely on merit, says Jennifer Reynolds, CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM) in Toronto. The industry needs to make a concerted effort to remove the barriers women face.

There are "pockets of progress," particularly in efforts to recruit more women on the retail side of banking, Reynolds says. But the industry as a whole is far from achieving gender parity, especially at the highest levels.

"We still need to get women in profit/loss roles," Reynolds says, adding that more women must be given opportunities to build experience.

Reynolds offers ideas on how you can work toward achieving gender diversity in your practice or firm:

> Check your unconscious biases
Hiring managers tend to unconsciously choose people who resemble themselves, Reynolds says.

This bias puts fewer women in the talent pool. And , in turn, executives have few qualified women to choose from when selecting candidates to fill boards and positions at senior leadership levels

If you're in a position to make hiring decisions, reflect on the biases that may be clouding your judgment. Assess your ability to place more weight on a person's skills than on how much you see yourself reflected in that individual.

> Involve men in the dialogue
Women-only groups can provide a safe environment for women to discuss the issues they face, but these groups can go only so far in achieving a more diverse workforce.

Unless men are engaged in discussions on how to attract more women to the industry — and retain them — progress in putting more women in senior positions will continue to fall short.

"You have to have both men and women in the dialogue," Reynolds says.

> Establish a sponsorship program
While mentors are good at sharing knowledge with other employees, Reynolds says, more formalized programs are needed to lay out a track for women to follow toward leadership positions.

A formal mentoring structure makes the goal of pursuing gender diversity more intentional and measurable, Reynolds says, as opposed to only paying "lip service" to the idea.

For example, you might introduce an initiative that pairs women on your team with women in leadership positions who can provide career guidance.

"You need people in your career who can really champion you," Reynolds says, "who can open doors for you."

> Change people's perceptions
The financial services sector has yet to shake its dated reputation as a cliquey, male-dominated industry that largely relegates women to support roles, Reynolds says. Education is still needed to make women aware that the culture has changed, even if systemic barriers to women's advancement have yet to be fully dismantled.

It starts with outreach, Reynolds says. For example, in your recruitment efforts, you can make a conscious effort to educate women about your firm's culture and how you navigate it on a daily basis.

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