Support for the Women in Finance Charter continues to grow

Article by Ross Johnson

The UK treasury has announced a further 25 firms across the financial services sector have signed the Women in Finance Charter, bringing the total number of signatories to 141.

Launched last March, the Women in Finance Charter commits firms to supporting the progression of women into senior roles, according to four key areas: one senior member of the team responsible for gender diversity, the setting of internal targets, publishing progress annually, and, most controversially, ensuring the pay of the senior team is linked to the delivery of these internal targets. AXA UK, Charles Stanley and Co., Janus Henderson Investments and Brickendon Consulting are among the list of new signatories.

A government-commissioned review (led by Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Virgin Money) highlighted the need for greater representation of women in the financial services sector – more than 50% of companies said they were accelerating their actions on gender diversity, while 45% wished to demonstrate leadership on the issue – and the new raft of signatories represents real progress within the sector.

With companies in the top quarter for gender diversity in 2016 found to be 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national average, it is perhaps not surprising that more companies in the sector are turning to the Charter. Brickendon Consulting are one of the latest companies to sign up and Chief Executive Christopher Burke said, “We are in no doubt that failing to take advantage of the skills of highly-qualified women constitutes a waste of talent and a loss of economic growth potential. By signing the Women in Finance Charter we are publicly stating our commitment to a diverse and inclusive environment for all our employees.”

While the business case for increased gender diversity remains compelling, the Charter also brings with it certain challenges. Ensuring commitments are met and that they remain high on the business agenda despite the other pressures of the financial sector was cited as the biggest challenge companies faced. There is also the problem of the law of small numbers – if a target refers to a small team, the departure of just one women can dramatically impact their numbers. No company wanted to feel obliged to hire a woman just to meet or maintain a target. But while Gadhia found that younger people agreed with this sentiment, and did not want positive discrimination, wanting “to be valued for themselves”, she also discovered a difference of opinion among the generations; “We found that as women get older…their views change” said Gadhia in her introduction to the review. “They realise that if they want to see meaningful change in gender equality, businesses need to measure it; because what gets measured gets done.”

Despite the prospective challenges, the signatories of the Women in Finance Charter have been boosted to 141. And with the overwhelming business case for gender diversity, as well as the growing need for businesses to demonstrate leadership on the issue, the number can only be expected to grow.