Being a woman in a man’s world
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry brings with it a specific set of challenges. Within the finance sector, diversity, equality and inclusion remains an area in need of drastic improvement.
In the UK, the finance industry is the worst performing sector when it comes to gender pay gaps, with male employees making approximately 24% more than their female colleagues1.
Change is afoot – from dedicated DE&I (Diversity Equality and Inclusion) Officers to national legislation and diversity quotas, governments and corporations are attempting to tackle the issue. But there is still a long way to go to secure equal representation of women in the banking sector.
At 21 years old, Rosie Lyon began her financial life as a bank cashier. Six years later, she’s risen through the ranks, trying her hand at a number of roles within the bank – from lending and credit, to business support for a portfolio of SMEs.
Currently, Rosie works as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Risk Officer for one of the country’s largest banks. An impressive achievement considering Rosie has no finance-related qualifications – and considering the number of women in management roles in the financial services remains comparatively low.
“When I moved upstairs to the business support role, it was all females apart from four men; three of those men were in senior management positions,” says Rosie. “And of course, I am an Executive Assistant to a man.”
Why do men tend to dominate the higher ranked roles? Only 15% of Fortune 500 CEOS are women. Considering these kinds of statistics, what more can be done to help enable and empower women to more senior positions within the financial sector?
“A lot needs to be done to help women feel more confident in finance, and I think a significant amount of that needs to come from senior management and leadership teams,” says Rosie. “One of my managers often seeks out my opinions. Without that encouragement, I wouldn’t speak up much, as I am wary of saying something wrong, or not understanding something correctly.”
Change must include conscious inclusion events and practices, according to Rosie – who herself runs an event for women who’ve experienced trauma.
“Awareness is crucial when it comes to empowering women to do what they want to in life. Things like awareness days, female-only days, guest speakers and women-led networks can all be hugely useful in improving the representation of women in finance.”
Confidence is key, when it comes to improving gender representation in the industry; as men are typically more likely to apply for a job or go for a promotion. But Rosie is keen to emphasise that anyone can knock your self-esteem in the workplace, regardless of gender.
“It’s important to remember that this conversation isn’t pitting men against women. In my career, one of the times I’ve felt a barrier at work was due to my age. In that instance, it was another woman who caused friction,” says Rosie
“Things like that can really knock your confidence. Whereas, I’ve also experienced many male managers and colleagues who have been really supportive at times; particularly when I’ve been dealing with problems at home.”
Rosie adds: “Just because you’ve got things going on at home, or you need to work part time because you have kids, or whatever else it may be, doesn’t mean that you can’t excel in your career and go on to bigger and better things.”
What advice does Rosie have for aspiring female bankers, looking for some tips to help navigate the industry?
“When it comes to being intimidated by things like jargon, it's important to try and get to the point where you are comfortable to ask if you don’t know something – and your management should foster an approachable environment. But I Google words all the time! I hate jargon; we should keep things simple and accessible!”
Dressing for a corporate environment can prove daunting, with pressures on appearance causing undue stress for many. Times are slowly changing, however. And according to Rosie, this change can’t come any quicker.
“I chuck my hair up, I very rarely wear makeup, and I don’t own foundation or high heels. I think when it comes to a corporate bank there’s a pressure to dress smartly, but – within reason – I think you need to wear what you like to feel comfortable,” says Rosie.
“If a bank is particularly old school, and has an issue, then perhaps it isn’t the kind of company that you want to work for. Clearly, they’re not very forward-thinking when it comes to inclusion. You need to be able to express yourself on a daily basis, whether it is in a corporate role or not.”