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Equality in the banking sector: ILM report highlights the hurdles to women reaching senior roles

David Woods , 12 Mar 2012

Royal Bank of Scotland

Nearly half of women working in the banking industry believe they face career barriers because of their gender, and a third (36%) of men agree, according to a report published this morning by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).



The Women in Banking report is based on in-depth research with over 800 men and women working across the banking sector.

It explores why so few women are working at senior levels in banking, the challenges they face and what banking organisations can do to address the issue. 

The research reveals a mix of cultural and organisational barriers that make it progressively difficult for women to rise to senior levels within banking. The five biggest barriers to female career progression (listed in rank order of importance by women) were the attitudes of senior male managers (72% female v 53% male), the greater proportion of men in senior roles (70% female v 54% male), the current organisational culture (61% female v 52% male) a lack of flexible working opportunities (56% female v 41% male) and the lack of female role models (41% female v 33% male).

At a junior level, 38% of women and men acknowledge there are barriers to female career progression. At middle management level that figure rises to 65% for women, but falls to 33% for men. The higher up the management hierarchy, the more visible these barriers are for women and the less visible they become for men. 

42% of women agreed their organisation should do more to ensure gender equality at all levels of the business compared to 28% of men.

At middle management and senior levels combined, there were large differences of opinion between men and women, with 51% of women believing more should be done, compared to 29% of men.

Overall, 87% of women felt some form of positive action was needed, compared to 67% of men. Flexible working was identified as the number one solution by 68% of women, compared to 42% of men. A third (33%) of men felt there was no need for action, compared to 13% of women.

Just 19% of women and 10% of men felt quotas should be introduced to balance the proportions of men and women in senior roles.

There is little sense that career progression in banking is based purely on merit. 48% of respondents said promotion was determined by who you know, whilst only 22% believed that people in the industry were promoted on merit alone.

Charles Elvin, chief executive of the ILM, said: "At a time of intense scrutiny, our banks need the best and most capable people leading their organisations, irrespective of their gender. Our research shows that talented women are still finding it difficult to reach senior positions. Rather than a single 'glass ceiling', we see a series of barriers that filter out female talent at each stage of the management hierarchy. This under-representation is in many instances due to the awareness, attitudes and behaviour of senior managers.

"Banks can boost the number of women in senior positions by taking positive steps towards strengthening and developing transparent management processes, measuring diversity metrics and better management of flexible working."

Banking is a highly competitive industry and progression to board or executive level is difficult regardless of gender. However, statistics clearly show that women aren't progressing as far or as high as their male counterparts, with just 11% of senior roles held by women compared to a UK average of 28%.

 

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