Still the only woman at the conference? How to break up the club

clock • 3 min read

Laura Miller looks at how to tackle the lack of visibility of women in financial services

Turn on TV news market reports or flick to the financial commentary in the business pages and more often than not those holding forth their views of the sector will be male.

The lack of visibility of women in financial services generally, and investment management in particular, is a phenomenon those working in it are all too familiar with, although steps are being taken in the right direction.

Yet still in 2019 industry awards ceremonies, investment roundtables, and conferences are often dominated by older, white men.

Bad culture can thrive in this nearly homogeneous environment. Fundscape chief executive Bella Caridade-Ferreira recalls repeated, and recent, problems at events.

"Men can be really inappropriate. They say things women would never say," she said.

"Overnight conferences tend to be the worst. One man - a chief executive - has been [behaving inappropriately] for four years."

Professional Pensions' Women in Investment Festival aims to be a full and frank response to this glitch in the modern matrix - how does the financial sector step outside its bubble and start looking and sounding more like the world around it?

Women are not a nice-to-have addition to industry events. They are core and vital participants for the benefit of the industry and their companies alike.

A report by McKinsey, a management consulting firm, titled Delivering Through Diversity, released last year, found gender diversity in management positions increases firm's profitability by as much as 21%.

All parts of the financial sector are affected by a lack of female voices, and investment management can learn from changes happening in other areas of the industry.

Gemma Young, who founded DiversiTech and Women of Fintech to promote gender equality, is a diversity and inclusion pioneer in the financial technology world.

Central to her role in inspiring more women to choose a career in finance is to improve gender balance at events and on panels and make women visible.

"Diversity attracts diversity," said Young. "One of the main ways to promote more women at an event is to have women on the panel. Having a relatable speaker will attract women."

However, wheeling out one female fund manager to speak is not enough. Women want to participate in events tailored to them as much as their male colleagues have enjoyed for decades.

"Timings are crucial," Young pointed out. "With many women having family commitments, after-work or evening events are not inclusive of those who have to be back in time to pick up their children from childcare.

"We have tried breakfast and lunch events to ensure inclusion of women and these time changes have made a huge difference to the number of women who can attend."

Sometimes it can be as simple as making sure the invite actually gets to the right people. It can pay to tap into female networks and take a targeted approach in lieu of a splatter gun strategy.

Young said: "Most women want to promote gender equality in the industry, so ask for their help. Ask them how they can help to ensure more women come to the event."

Men, as the dominant force in finance, also have an important role to play in breaking up the boys club at industry events, said Young.

"Got a mainly male audience? Ask them to each bring a female colleague and get them buying into the importance of gender equality at work and at events."

Women in Investment Festival

The Women in Investment Festival, in partnership with sister publications Investment WeekProfessional AdviserRetirement Planner and Investment Europe, is a one-day festival that aims to celebrate successful women in the industry. It is sponsored by HSBC Global Asset Management and will take place on Tuesday 3 March 2020 at The Brewery in London.

For more details on the line-up, and to buy tickets for the festival, please click here.

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