Over the past few months, diversity has become the latest buzzword in my social media timeline. Many are writing and speaking about how to achieve true diversity within the advice profession and financial services – and how to move away from it being the kingdom of the middle-aged white male.
My own company Nucleus Financial is taking steps to address this. The news last month that Nucleus has committed to the Treasury’s Women in Finance charter made me stop for a moment and reflect on my own experience of women working in my industry.
I have worked in financial services for a long time now. 26 years to be exact. (I know, I don’t look that old, do I?) I have worked for two life companies, been self-employed, and now I work for a platform.
Over that time, as you would expect, I have seen a lot of changes. The ratio of women to men working in financial services doesn’t seem to have changed much. A recent review of Nucleus put the ratio at about 45 per cent women to 55 per cent men and that feels about right, both now and in 1991. The key difference is the areas women now work, and the management level they work at. Back in the day women worked predominantly in admin. And the only senior woman manager you would come across would be the head of personnel.
The situation has improved. There are a lot more women at a senior level now, and a few more creeping onto company executives and boards. There’s also been big changes in the make-up of sales staff. I still remember female branch managers being something of a novelty.
Looking back on my career, I don’t believe being female has ever stopped me from advancing. I always believed I got the job based on my skills. But if I’m being truthful, I feel more assured in 2017 that my gender won’t hinder me than I did back then. The main challenge I face today is being part-time, and having to realise I can’t do everything I want in my career if I only work 22 hours a week.
The biggest change for me personally has been my experiences when I have travelled around the country to present to advisers. If I go back 15 or 20 years to when I first started, often I was the only woman in the room. The only plus was there wasn’t a queue for the bathroom at the half time comfort break.
I have always maintained being female has sometimes worked for me, and sometimes against me. Generally, I have been lucky - I have never had any truly negative moments being a female presenter. I was once at a network conference for a couple of days where partners had been invited to attend an evening gala dinner. After being asked which part of the country my husband worked, I had to explain that I was presenting on the technical aspects of pensions tax. And unfortunately I have often been asked at presentations if I could "sort out some more coffees love".
I truly believe the world is changing. Now, I would expect women to make up 30 to 40 per cent of the audience. Still not 50:50 but a vast improvement. There is obviously some way still to go. Women are still under-represented in senior management roles, under-represented on boards and executives, and still under-paid compared to men.
Government and professional trade bodies initiatives do make a difference. But importantly I feel the profession is no longer simply paying lip service to idea of equality in financial services, and is actually trying to do something to close the divide.
Over the next 20 years, I am looking forward to seeing the role of women (and other so-called ‘minorities’) evolve even further. I would like to see women make up 50 per cent of the senior management at companies. 50 per cent of the board. And with the current shift towards financial planning and away from ‘product shifting’ experienced in the adviser community, I am expecting to see more and more women financial planners flood my presentations.
If so, at half-time I will be gladly queuing for the bathroom.