Seeing is believing: Clearing the barriers to women’s progress in financial services

Window of opportunity

While more women are moving into senior leadership positions within financial services (FS), many still struggle to progress during the pivotal middle years of their careers. Career advancement for women in FS presents something of a paradox; the progress at the very top isn’t yet reflected in mid-tier management and executive committees, where moving up the ladder remains frustratingly difficult. More representation of women in senior roles is an important step, but it is not enough.

What’s holding women back in FS and how can this be overcome? In 2018, we surveyed 290 professional women aged between 28 and 40 who are working in FS about their aspirations, how they feel about their prospects for advancement and what they see as potential obstacles to successful careers. The FS sample forms part of a survey of 3,627 professional women from across all sectors worldwide. The age range was chosen as this is the period in working lives where the gap between men’s and women’s progression begins to widen and the challenges of combining careers and personal priorities increase.

Top five actions women believe employers should take to improve career opportunities:

  1. Create fair and transparent promotion and appraisal processes 
  2. Invest in training and continuing education programmes for employees 
  3. Provide clear definition of organisational roles, levels and promotion criteria to help employees understand what is expected at the next level for promotion 
  4. Provide skills assessments to help employees understand strengths and development areas
  5. Change workplace culture to support equal opportunity for progression (e.g. track key metrics aligned to diversity objectives)

Don’t miss the opportunity

Both the findings of our survey and the data highlighting the slow pace of change in FS underline the need for companies to re-orientate policies, culture and attitudes. The intensifying spotlight on pay and prospects for women should make addressing these issues an urgent priority. Talented professionals will vote with their feet and leave if they are relegated to the bottom of the agenda.

We believe that there are four key questions your organisation should consider as you look to clear away the barriers to progression for women in FS:

  1. Are you doing enough to ensure that women believe they can succeed within your organisation? How do you know?
  2. Do women feel safe in reporting discrimination and harassment? How do you know?
  3. Are you monitoring the gender balance of selection for promotion and key assignments to help identify and tackle potential biases?
  4. To what extent are you promoting flexibility as a positive choice and ensuring that your people feel that it won’t bar advancement?

Developing clear answers to these questions will put your business on the road to creating a better, more inclusive environment. The action you take will help women to thrive within your organisation and give you a powerful edge in a tight FS labour market.

Contact us

Jon Terry

Global Financial Services People and Organization Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 7720 555397

Katy Bennett

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director, PwC United Kingdom

Bhushan Sethi

Strategy&, Principal, PwC United States

Tel: +1 (646) 471 2377

Nicole Wakefield

ASEAN People and Organization Leader, Partner (on secondment in Asia), PwC Australia

Tel: +65 6 236 7998

Julie McKay

Diversity & Inclusion Consulting Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (7) 3257 5436

Follow us