Big gender gap emerges in financial services sector

A poll of workers in the financial services sector has highlighted a huge gender divide, with the majority of women feeling they are underpaid, overlooked and severely under represented at executive level – but their male colleagues strongly disagree.

A Financial Services Institute of Australia (Finsia) poll of over 800 male and female financial services workers found stark opinion differences between men and women about how women are treated and represented.

Of the women surveyed, 85% feel there is a gender divide within the industry, while over half the males surveyed, 58%, disagreed.

When asked about promotions, 82% of female finance professionals agree that if they choose to have time off for “caring responsibilities”, they are forced to trade promotion for flexibility, while 52% of males felt this way.

Most women also have grievances about differences in pay between the genders. When asked whether the gap in pay between each was a fair reflection of the hours worked and the skill set, 80% of women disagreed, while 61% of men agreed.

“The survey findings reflect that while the implementation of pragmatic measures such as child care support and flexible work options would go some way to lifting the levels of female participation within our industry, essentially, cultural barriers go to the heart of the gender divide,” Finsia CEO Dr Martin Fahy says.

Fahy says the key findings of the study are that there are enormous differences in perceptions and in attitudes between men and women.

“Quite clearly women perceive there are enormous issues confronting them in the workplace. These views are not supported by men.”

“I think what leads to this difference is the current structure at work and the culture which currently works for men and doesn’t work for women,” he says. “The issues are no longer about mentoring women and about their professional development.”

“We really need to address that values and beliefs in the workplace need to change to allow women to achieve their full potential,” he says. “The problem is not the women, it’s the men,” he says. “The men need to change, not the women.”

“Considering women make up over half of Australia’s population and legislation has supported equal rights for many years now, the only way to explain the lack of women occupying leadership roles is a common bias at executive management level toward men,” he says.

“This reflects either a significant perception gap or just plain old complacency, with little desire to enforce gender equality both in principle and practice.”

Fahy says this cultural diversity is not just confined to the financial sector. “We know from international research across workplaces in all industries that this is a problem in workplaces across all industries,” he says.

He says while individual firms are dedicated to diversity, it goes much deeper into the cultural fabric of the workforce.

“Employers are very committed but we still have an enormous way to go and we need to move beyond the current approach and adopt other methods,” he says. “Businesses need to send a strong and clear signal to their workforce that in order to compete internationally they need higher participation of women.”

He argues that across all industries Australia should follow the lead of other countries where a combination of wider cultural acceptance of female employment and the right government policies have worked.

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