Advancing

Where are the Women in Financial Services?

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Women committed to getting to the top in financial services do much better in Moscow and Oslo than in New York or London.

Only one top executive in eight at major financial services firms is a woman, according to five-year study of women in financial services from management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

The study of 150 financial services firms in five countries found that only 4 percent of financial industry CEOs are women, and more than a third of executive committees are still entirely male.

There’s been some progress, however, on boards. One in five board members of financial firms were female, up by two-thirds over the last decade.

Women in Russia are breaking through the barriers women hit in most other countries, seemingly because the industry is younger there, and the male-dominated culture less entrenched. The outlook for Scandavian women is also brighter than in the U.S, in part because of family-friendly policies and, in Norway, a mandate that 40 percent of supervisory board members at publicly traded companies be women.

The pain point seems to be rising from middle-management to senior management, more so, the report posits, than in other industries. A woman in financial services is less than half as likely as a man to move from a midlevel position to a senior position.

The report calls out another problem hindering women’s overall progress. Most women who do get to the top are in HR and compliance or regulatory jobs, rather than heading up business units. More women need to be on the path to those spots to change the dynamic.

Beyond the individual women affected, the lack of women in top roles does have important impact on firm and the industry overall. “Diverse groups make better decisions, and are less prone to groupthink,” said Michelle Daisley, partner at Oliver Wyman.

While flexible work arrangements are important, and programs to help women network, are good steps, they are not enough. Firms must “look at the culture, the unconscious and conscious biases.” of their leaders, to really change things for women.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.