Last weekend, the Financial Times featured an article about women in the “City” (the name for London’s analogue to New York’s Wall Street, which was historically a square mile of London dominated by financial institutions). A little background here: the UK tends to fall somewhere between the United States and continental Europe in terms of employee benefit policies (i.e. it tends to be more generous than the United States in terms of favorable employee protections such as maternity leave, but less generous than many European countries). In terms of the challenges women in finance face, however, things in London look a lot like things in New York.
While the gender ratio in the overall staff of City employers is close to 50/50, top management is dominated by men (80%) and women report a macho culture that make it difficult to succeed. This is despite the companies’ attempts to “have some of the most proactive female employment policies around.” Unlike the U.S. banks, where to my knowledge there are no targets for female management, several institutions in the U.K. such as Lloyds Bank, the Bank of England and Barclays are cited as having goals for female management numbers (with Barclays making diversity one of 8 factors upon which bonuses are based). I find it striking that many of the top financial institutions in the U.S. similarly have very strong benefits for maternity leave, childcare, not to mention diversity programs and training. And yet, these places still purportedly feel very difficult for women both in London and New York. The reasons cited for the dismal female management numbers are similar to the ones you hear often in the U.S.: grueling hours, the conflicts of motherhood, and the lack of female role models. Another reason is described in the article by a 30-something year old woman who left a career at Goldman Sachs for private equity. What she says is interesting because I’ve rarely heard it put this way in print, but find it resonates with what I’ve personally observed:
“Many women in finance didn’t always envision a career in the industry — they were educated or convinced into it…Banks then compound this by actively recruiting female hyper-achievers, who see a job in the industry as a stereotype to beat. They often excel for two to four years, then get slightly bored and want a new challenge.”
In other words, its probably true that certain high-achieving women also have many career options and choose to leave for reasons that are personal.
Ultimately, while the article has no conclusion, it provides a great overview of the state of women in finance, and covers HR benefits, policies and catalogues what certain companies are doing to address issues such as flexible working, maternity/paternity leave, and childcare. Its a great read in comparative issues, and may even foreshadow certain things to come in the U.S.