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By Astrid Jaekel and Elizabeth St-Onge
Financial institutions have been employers of women for decades: historically as tellers, secretaries, and junior administrative staff. In the 1980s, however, pioneering women began moving into management roles and into frontline business areas, such as investment banking. Today 47% of management and professional roles in American financial firms are occupied by women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But this seemingly impressive statistic disguises an underlying lack of progress of gender equality in financial services. Women still aren’t making it to the top. An analysis that we conducted of disclosures made by 50 American financial services companies revealed that women occupy only 20% of executive committee roles and 22% of board positions. Only 12% of the chief executive officers of large U.S. financial firms are women.
Career progression analysis also shows that at each level, men are promoted at materially higher rates than women. Women are far more likely than men to leave the industry or to reduce their level of ambition just at the point in their careers when they need to make the effort to push on to the top. As a result, women’s prospects are significantly worse in financial services than in other sectors, A recent study conducted by our sister company Mercer discovered. One young female banker we interviewed for our 2016 report “Women in Financial Services” even told us, “I came into my career in financial services with aspirations to make it to the top. But now, five years into it, I am planning my escape.”
What explains the poor career prospects of women in financial services?
To find out, Oliver Wyman surveyed 850 financial services professionals from around the world (both men and women), interviewed over 100 senior female executives globally (C-suite and board members), and held focus groups with Millennial women working across a number of financial institutions in the U.S. Responses revealed a culture that has changed surprisingly little over the last 30 years. The overt sexism of earlier times may have been stamped out, but unconscious biases and gender-role expectations that disadvantage women have not.
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