Improving leadership outcomes for women in financial services | Deloitte Insights

Within reach? Achieving gender equity in financial services leadership

23 October 2019

The percentage of women in finance leadership roles is growing, but there's still a ways to go to reach gender equity. Amanda Pullinger, CEO of 100 Women in Finance, joins Deloitte's Stacy Sandler and Alison Rogish to discuss how the industry can improve.

“The sense of being the only one, the sense of struggling alone, is something that's really been detrimental in the industry and particularly in those mid-career phases.”

—Amanda Pullinger, CEO, 100 Women in Finance

Tanya Ott: I’m Tanya Ott and today on the Press Room we’ve got the first of what will be several conversations about the challenges women face in the financial services industry. It’s a topic that I’m interested in personally because I’ve got a daughter who is majoring in economics with a certificate in finance and she’s starting to think about the job hunt. She’s excited about her prospects.

But many in the field say that’s not always the case; that millennials think tech is cooler. My guests today say they think one reason women, specifically, may not see a place for themselves in financial services is because they don’t see enough women in upper management in the industry. And, they say, there are a lot of things the industry can do to address that.

Amanda Pullinger is the CEO of 100 Women in Finance, a global professional association. Stacy Sandler is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP. She leads retirement and wealth practice within the firm. And Alison Rogish is managing director and client relationship executive in Deloitte Service LP. 

Together with their team, they dug into the sector’s employment data to get a better picture of women’s place in the industry. I started by asking Amanda—why this topic and why now?

Amanda Pullinger: There are lots of great things that the industry has done in terms of diversity and inclusion initiatives, but one of the challenges still is that if we look at the percentage of women who are fund managers in the world, it really hasn't shifted for 20 or 30 years. And so, we're at a moment where we feel we've come some way, but now we want to focus on, how do we actually change the demographics of the industry?

Why now? There's a real moment where a lot of the senior women in the industry, who may not have been paying attention to what's been going on, are really reflecting back on their careers and wondering why there aren't more women in particular roles in the industry. It's been interesting the last couple of years how many more senior women have said, “What do we need to do to actually move the needle much more quickly than that it has been moving?”

Stacy Sandler: This topic has been around in the 30 plus years that I've been in the financial services industry. We've been discussing this for a really, really long time. And when I reflect on your question of why now, it’s because there are more women—young women—coming into the workforce than ever before. And if we don't pay attention to that workforce, we are going to continually have issues. For me why now is—yes, we've been doing it a long time, and yes, we have more data, and yes, we have better statistics, but not great statistics of women leaders in every category. The dialogue is all around diversity and inclusion, which makes me happy and makes me smile. Why now is we have to capture these new generations of incredibly smart, young women and understand their needs as they enter the workforce and not be scared about entering financial services.

Alison Rogish: Stacy, I absolutely agree with you. Layering on top of that new generation that we need to appeal to in financial services, married with some broader societal changes and societal focus on some of the lack of inclusion and diversity in different industries, [there has been] a lack of real change in some of the metrics in terms of how women are showing up in senior leadership ranks. [That] makes it a bit of a perfect storm for we have an opportunity right now to focus on making real change here.

Tanya: Alison you mentioned metrics, and I'd love to get a sense of how you all did your research, because it's this very interesting marriage of data and personal stories. Tell us a little bit about the approach that you took in in looking at this issue.

Alison: We wanted to make sure we had some quantitative data, as well as some qualitative stories from women in the financial industry right now. What we did was two things: First we looked quantitatively at data from the last 20 years from a cross-section of financial services firms based in the US. And we performed a proprietary analysis on that to identify some of the trends that we've discussed in the report. But on top of the numbers, we also wanted to make sure that we were getting some real stories from women in the trenches who are working in senior leadership positions at financial services companies right now. And to that end, we kind of crowd-sourced stories and anecdotes from 20 different senior executive women through a virtual panel that we held over several days over the summer. And so, by using both of those approaches, we got a really nice mix of some hard, impactful numbers, and we were able to overlay some really great personal stories from very senior women who are in the financial services industry today.

Tanya: Let's dig into those numbers a little bit. What did you find? Let's start maybe with the good news.

Alison: The good news is that we're seeing a slight increase in the rate of women in senior leadership, mostly [in] C-Suite roles over the last six or so years. Since about 2013, we've been seeing a slight increase in women who are assuming C-Suite roles. That's really pretty positive. If we were to look today, we see 21.9 percent women in [executive-type roles] right now, and that's up from about 15.6 percent in 1998. So, we're seeing a bit of an uptick there.

Stacy: I'm jumping in. So, here's what I think—and Alison you have such positive energy around it—but going up 6 percent from 1998 to 2019 is just pitiful. And quite honestly, what we're seeing in this report [is] most of that increases at the C-Suite, and we're concerned about the few levels below that. So, our energy has to be, how do we increase that at a faster rate, which is what you said, Alison. But I look at those numbers and, given that I've been doing this for 30-plus years, we've had all types of initiatives that have been named different things but they're basically the same thing, and we're just not getting anywhere.

What I see personally is when women get to a certain level, they start thinking about family and they start thinking about, “Is this a job for me and the future?,” and they don't see a whole lot of people who look like them. That's where they pause and say, “Is there another industry that could better serve who I am?” That level is where we need to focus. Obviously in the beginning [we can focus on] getting them in the door and recruiting, but if we don't take care of that level, we're never going to increase that number.

Amanda: I think that's where the whole issue of visibility and role models comes into play. Those women who are going through perhaps a challenging time in their career, where we can accelerate keeping those women in the industry through creating more visibility for women in the industry—whether that's increasing the visibility of women at conferences or on television talking about financial topics. Changing the mindset of what a financial expert looks like and changing the mindset that only men get to the top is going to be a critical piece. I also think for those women who are mid-career, one of the biggest issues facing those women is the fact that they are often the only woman in that team, the only woman within their working environment. There's a double whammy if you have a family, because very often you're the only working mother within the community in which you live. And so that sense of being different is part of the challenge. For me, the visibility of women at the top and encouraging women to be more visible so that the next level down can actually see a route to get to the top and can see that it's possible, is matched with the need for a peer network where those women don't [have to] feel they're the only one, that there are other women at the same stage that they're at that they can have conversations with about what all the challenges and how do we move forward and what's your experience.

Alison: Amanda, that's a wonderful point. I'm very sensitive about that myself as a working mother with three young children, as a senior leader in financial services, and, and, and—right, you kind of keep rolling on all the adjectives there. We certainly have to elevate and promote and highlight women at the macro level, but the real magic happens at the micro level where we're all being very open about our personal experiences, about how we “do it all,” the areas where we're willing to make sacrifices, the areas where we aren't willing to make sacrifices. It's at that granular level that I'm hopeful I'm having the most impact on the women around me and the men around me who are interested in continuing to progress and want to have a family and want to be more than just their careers. I'm very conscious of that as I'm putting myself out there, not only in the marketplace but also within Deloitte, because if I'm not sharing my own struggles, I'm contributing to the problem by making it look easy or making it look like I've got it all under control—because most days I don't.

Amanda: I did conferences in Miami and San Diego, and I hosted a table which was entitled “How men can help move the needle for women in finance.” And [we had] really interesting conversations with the men around the table about some of the practical ways that we can better engage women in networking by being sponsored in the organization. I raised the issue of the going out for drinks after work, and I said, “Look, for a lot of women, they can't do it on an ad hoc, ‘Oh let's just go for a drink’ way.” If you put it into a more formal structure, so you said, “Every last Thursday of the month we're going to go out as a team,” number one, you'd have more women going because they can make the arrangements if you give them enough notice. And maybe there are other ways that you can think about team building. It was very interesting to watch these guys' reaction to some of these suggestions, because it just hasn't occurred to them. It's about open conversations, and part of the challenge is, how do we get that done in the workplace? Obviously I'm biased, but one of the benefits of an organization like 100 Women in Finance is we are a neutral, safe place [for] some of these conversations that perhaps women do feel vulnerable talking about. If we can bring them into an environment where they can be open and honest where it's in a neutral place, we can start to address some of the practical issues that women are facing.

Stacy: Yeah. Amanda, you bring up such excellent points. Two things to add on to that.  Oftentimes, male or females who maybe don't have a family like that, they may go out, and they don't invite you because they assume you're too busy. That doesn't feel good either.

Tanya: I want to pipe in here as also a working mother of three: It's so great to hear your stories and storytelling is really important. That's at the micro level, but as we expand out from that, you've got concepts that are also practical at a macro level. There's this idea of the multiplier effect with women being in top-level positions. Alison, can you talk a little bit about what this multiplier effect is?

Alison: For every woman that we found in the C-suite within an organization, so I'm talking within one company, we saw a threefold increase in women in senior leadership within that company. And that is really fascinating, and a bit of a bright light in our research. Because what that says to me is a couple of things: One, it says that as women are making it to that C-suite level, there's a little bit of that, “Hey I can be like her as well” [effect]. There's that role model element to what we were talking about earlier. But there's [also] an element of the woman in that C-suite leadership role making opportunities and space for women leaders directly and immediately beneath her.

Tanya: We talk about the practical steps that companies can take to increase the number of women in the industry. Alison, there's this idea of returnships. What is that?

Alison: Yes. This is something that I'm really excited about. [The idea is] that women are more likely than men to take breaks in their careers for a whole bunch of reasons, [such as] having children, or caring for elderly parents or elderly relatives. Studies have shown that women are more likely to take a break in their careers than men. What we are seeing in the industry, and in society even more broadly, is that there is a recognition that there are women who have completed their “breaks” and they're ready to come back into the workforce. We're seeing different programs within companies as well as different kind of consulting firms that will help these women who want to come back into the workforce, help them do that either through mentoring, through helping them reskill themselves to make sure their skills are brushed up for the modern day economy, and provide the support, the networking, the specific job opportunities that they need in order to better and more seamlessly transition back into the workforce. At Deloitte ourselves we have something called the Encore Program where women and men can take on three- to four-month assignments to ease their way back into the workforce, reskill themselves, start to build up their network and see if Deloitte a place where they want to be longer term.

Tanya: That's great. I love that—returnships, like an internship, but not. That's awesome.

Amanda: The returnship programs that I've seen that work really well are ones where there's a longer-term commitment. This is a job. You're going to be given a job, but you're also going to be given the support around those areas where you perhaps have lost confidence, so you feel like you're going back into not just a short-term activity, but actually a longer-term career. This is one of the areas where we can supercharge the number of women who end up in senior roles.

I worked with a pension fund in the UK on a hiring recruitment drive that they were doing for a senior investment professional. One of the finalists for this senior investment role was a woman who'd been out of the industry for 10 years. Her CV looked fantastic, but the woman who had come to me [because they wanted] more women candidates said, “My boss said, ‘Why would we hire somebody who's been out of the industry for 10 years?’”

And it was this woman who said, “I want to interview the woman who's returning into the industry because her track record and her background is fantastic.” And halfway through the interview, she dragged her boss into that interview because she was so impressed with this woman, and that is now the woman that they're going to hire. In all of these things there are some unspoken unconscious bias, but there's also some unspoken concerns that we have to address if we're actually going to succeed in this.

Tanya: Stacey, in your report you talk about how women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. What's the difference between the two and why does it matter?

Stacy: Number one—it does matter, and I'll give you some personal reasons why. When you are mentored, you are basically getting advice from various sources. When you are sponsored, that means that somebody is pounding the table for you. [The industry has] so many programs for mentoring, and some of them work and some of them don't. The ones that work are the ones that the people you are mentoring are the ones pushing and driving and reaching out and asking for advice. The formal programs, where you're matching people up and you have one or two meetings—to me, personally, I don't think those work well. The mentoring should have a personal relationship, and somebody needs to be driving that.

Now from a sponsor perspective, I believe those are the most important, quite honestly. As you get to know somebody and they know what your aspirations are, they know where you want to go, they know what you're good at, what you're not good at, and they give you advice along the way. But they're the ones in the meetings that are saying, “Stacy Sandler is the right person for that. You might not have thought about it, but let me tell you why.” Sponsors are harder to come by. I've had many along the way. [We need] more rigor around sponsorship and helping individuals—male or female—find a sponsor. At this juncture sponsorship at the mid-level and above is the most important.

Tanya: And it's probably important to say that sponsors wouldn't have to be just women. We're talking about men being sponsors as well.

Stacy: I 100 percent agree with you. It actually doesn't matter. What matters is that person knows you, both personally and professionally, and is willing to step up, pound the table for you for those roles that you want.

Alison: The onus needs to be on the senior executive. There needs to be a bit of a call to arms to the senior executives to say, “Hey, make sure you're sponsoring those bright shiny stars beneath you,” because that's where the power of the network and the power of the reputation of the senior executive can really shine through. That's where we'll see meaningful change. Find those shining stars that you think are the up-and-coming leaders, who you believe are worth investing your own political capital [in], and help move the needle that way. We'll get some traction [by] as senior leaders making a concerted effort to make sure that we're bringing along and pulling up those shining stars beneath us.

Amanda: This is another case of, particularly with senior men, we need to give them some practical ways of how to do that. First of all, yes, challenging senior men [by saying], “Don't just do the easy thing, which is to have buddies that look like you and have the same experience as you, which is a natural human thing, but actually be very conscious about looking for female talent within your team and being very deliberate about it and figuring out how can you help those women.” My personal experience, I've worked in seven different industries, all of which were male-dominated, and I often look and say to myself, you know, I had a great time in every single one of them. I felt supported. And it's because the men that were my bosses were those sponsors. Now we didn't use that term, but it's a relatively new term—sponsorship. But I realized that my ability to succeed is because the bosses I had went to bat for me.

This isn't about women versus men. This isn't just about ethnicity or whatever.  It is about diversity of thought. And the most interesting research report that I read recently came from last summer. Harvard Business Review looked at VC deals and the performance of those VC deals.

Tanya: And when you say VC deals, what you mean there is venture capital.

Amanda: Yes. They looked at 20,000 of them around the world, and they looked at the composition of the deal team. What they discovered was the worst-performing VC deals were done where everybody on the deal team went to the same university. The best-performing deals were ones where the team was very ethnically diverse. It really points out that this is about—certainly from an investing perspective—this is about how do we get different perspectives on a topic? How do we bring in people who've had different experiences of life? Gender plays into that, but it's not the only piece of diversity out there. At the end of the day, investors are demanding more diversity in investment teams because they realize it produces better results.

Alison: I see our clients making a concerted effort in this manner. And so, at least from a Deloitte perspective and a client-service perspective, we need to make sure that we are keeping up with our clients in terms of where they're headed in this space. It's really important for us to make sure that we look like they do. As they are continuing to be more diverse, be more inclusive in their own senior-leadership roles, we need to make sure that we're able to represent accordingly.

Tanya: This has been a really fantastic and important conversation that we've been having and there's so much more to talk about, because this is not a one-and-done. It's part of a much larger project. As we close out, maybe give us a sense of what you're going to be looking at next with this research.

Alison: There are so many directions that we can take this initial report. So, you are correct Tanya. There is more to come for sure. This is certainly not one-and-done. One theme that we want to dig into in particular is that as we were doing our analysis, we noticed that there was an emerging category of C-Suite titles that have come out in the last decade or so—things like chief data officer, chief sustainability officer, chief digital officer. Still C-suite roles, but newer C-Suite roles. What we found is that women account for almost one-third of these emerging leadership roles, which is really interesting because that's higher than women's representation in what I'll call the traditional C-suite or senior leadership roles. This is something that we're definitely going to dig into in future reports to understand why we're seeing more women leaders in these emerging C-suite roles.

Tanya: Alison, Amanda, [and] Stacy—thank you so much for your time today and hopefully we'll have a chance to talk to you again in the future.

All: Great. Thank you. Thank you, Tanya.

Tanya: That was Amanda Pullinger, CEO of 100 Women in Finance; Stacy Sandler, who leads Retirement and Wealth practice within Deloitte Consulting LLP; and Alison Rogish, managing director and client relationship executive in Deloitte Services LP’s Financial Services practice.   Their new report, Within reach, will be released on November 5 on Deloitte Insights.

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