Sexism in the City: Report finds 'big pockets of no progress whatsoever' for women in finance

The report found only "incremental improvements" in the proportion of women holding senior roles in financial services firms.

Related topics:  Finance News,  Women in Finance
Rozi Jones | Editor, Barcadia Media Limited
11th March 2024
Women business finance
"Despite the best efforts of some far too little progress has been made and serious problems which should have been rooted out still persist."

The Treasury's new report into gender equality in financial services has found only "incremental improvements" for women in financial services.

The report, titled 'Sexism in the City', found "a disappointing lack of progress on sexual harassment and bullying, including serious sexual misconduct".

The Treasury Committee said that following a previous report five years ago, it sought to find out how much had changed, stating that "disappointingly, the answer appears to be 'not much'", adding that "many of the barriers identified in 2018 remain stubbornly in place".

The report found that many firms still treat diversity and inclusion as a ‘tick box’ exercise rather than a core business priority, despite clear evidence that diverse firms achieve better results.

In addition, there have been only "incremental improvements" in the proportion of women holding senior roles in financial services firms, and some sectors have seen no improvement at all. Similarly, there has been only a small reduction in the average gender pay gap in financial services, which remains the largest gender pay gap of any sector in the UK economy.

The Treasury Committee said it was "shocking to hear how prevalent sexual harassment and bullying, up to and including serious sexual assault and rape, still are in financial services, and how poorly firms handle allegations of such behaviours". It says it was particularly concerned to hear of the widespread misuse of non-disclosure agreements, which have the effect of silencing the victim of harassment and forcing them out of an organisation, while protecting perpetrators and leaving them free to continue their careers and go on to abuse others.

The report said: "As in 2018, the overarching problem behind all these issues is that of impunity for perpetrators and culture, and the limited progress since 2018 can largely be ascribed to a lack of cultural change in the sector.

"Despite the best efforts of some far too little progress has been made and serious problems which should have been rooted out still persist. Significant concern remains, however, about the overall culture prevalent within the sector that holds back progress for women. While this Report deals with various challenges experienced by women in financial services, whether related to pay, harassment or maternity leave, as examples, it is this cultural deficit that allows them all to persist. Culture is also the most difficult area to seek to reform."

Discussing the Women in Finance Charter, the report noted that the average proportion of women holding senior management roles has increased from 27% in 2016 to 35% by 2022, but noted that "at a rate of little over a percentage point a year, it is frustratingly slow".

The report also found "big pockets of no progress whatsoever", with fund management repeatedly highlighted for poor female representation.

In a statement, the FCA said: "As the Treasury Select Committee’s report sets out, there has been welcome progress on representation within financial services but this has not been fast enough, and there are pockets where no progress is discernible and significant cultural issues remain.

"The Committee itself noted that there is clear evidence that diverse firms achieve better results. And we continue to believe that greater diversity and inclusion within the firms we regulate can deliver improved internal governance, decision making and risk management. The Committee therefore shares our view that change is needed, and has called on boards and senior leadership of firms to take greater responsibility for delivering it.

"This year, we will prioritise proposals that tighten expectations on firms to tackle misconduct such as bullying and sexual harassment. We will also consider the Committee’s recommendations on whistleblowing and the use of non-disclosure agreements, building on our existing work.

"We will reflect on the range of views received, particularly those of the Committee, on our proposals that firms should set their own diversity and inclusion strategy and collect, report and disclose data against certain characteristics.

"The Committee has asked us to consider how we engage with boards and other senior leaders on their firms’ culture and encourage those we regulate to adopt family friendly policies with equality impact assessments. We will consider these, and other, recommendations carefully."

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