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Women still underrepresented in senior roles at financial institutions

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Suban Abdulla
·4 min read
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The report says that there has been a "modest increase in the percentage of women at all levels" in 2020 compared to previous years. Photo: Getty

Women are still underrepresented in senior positions at financial institutions, despite being well-represented in the finance industry.

Figures from Equileap's Gender Equality Report & Ranking 2020 indicate women represent 50% of the workforce in global financial companies, but on average 26% of women are represented on the board of directors, 18% on the executive team and 28% in senior management.

The report looks at the gender balance of firms at four levels — board of directors, executive, senior management and workforce — and assesses the progression of each gender to senior levels of the company.

Women represent 25% of board members globally, 17% of executives, 24% of senior management, and 37% of the workforce.

The report says that there has been a "modest increase in the percentage of women at all levels" in 2020 compared to previous years.

Out of the 3,702 companies researched for the report, only 10 companies achieved gender balance (40-60% women) at all four levels last year. They were: AIB Group (AIBG.L), Air New Zealand (AIR.NZ), Assura (AGR.L), Coty (COTY), DNB, Gecina (GFC.PA), Mercialys (MERY.PA), Hang Seng Bank (0011.HK), Klovern (KLOV-B.ST), and Wallenstam (WALL-B.ST).

In 2019, only one company — Suncorp Group (SUN.AX) — achieved balance at all four levels. The report said while the 2020 figures reflect a small number of companies at the top, it is a "marked improvement" from the previous report.

Globally, 15% of companies have gender balanced boards, this is up from 10% in 2019, and 7% have gender balanced executive teams (up from 6% in 2019).

Women in France have the highest representation on boards, with an average of 44% women at that level. This was followed by Italy and Sweden, with 38% and 37% women respectively.

While the high performance in France and Italy can be attributed due to mandatory quotas in the countries, the balance on French and Italian boards does not extend to the executive teams, where women are represented, on average, at 19% and 12%, respectively.

Sweden, Singapore and Australia are the only three countries with an average of over 20% of women at the executive level, with 26%, 24%, and 24% representation respectively.

Meanwhile, Singapore (31%), Australia (30%), and France (30%) lead in representation of women in senior management.

"France, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the U.S. have all achieved average gender balance in the workforce (40% women or greater), with Switzerland and the UK coming in close behind with 39% in each country. Australia and Spain each have an average representation of 38% women in the workforce," the report said.

Graph: Equileap
Graph: Equileap

Singapore, which is a global leader in female representation at the executive, senior management, and workforce levels, is one of only three countries with an average of less than 20% women at the board level.

Despite that, Equileap said that there was better disclosure in terms of gender composition at the board and executive levels than at the senior management and workforce levels.

There was an increase in the percentage of firms reporting on gender diversity at the senior management level — up from 48% to 59%, and workforce levels (from 51% to 67%). Only 8 companies world wide do not publish data at the board level, and only 11 at the executive level.

READ MORE: FTSE 100 firms trailing behind peers in sexual harassment policies

The research also looked at promotions and opportunities of progression from one level of a company to a higher one.

Women in Switzerland have the lowest chance of being promoted. While figures suggest there is a large glass ceiling, there is not a lack of a pool of working women, with 39% of women in the workforce, 22% at the senior management level, only 10% at the executive level and 25% at the board level.

Japan also has "extremely low" averages of female representation across all levels of organisations. On average the Asia-Pacific country has 10% of women on boards, 3% at the executive level, 8% in senior management, and 26% in the workforce, falling "far below the performance of all 23 countries researched."

Graph; Equileap
Graph; Equileap

Research found that institutions with more diverse boards have greater returns and lower risk profiles.

A recent study from Glenmede showed that the first quintile of the Russell 1000 index (^RUI) outperformed significantly companies in the last quintile when looking at both risk and return. Increased participation of women at all levels in the workplace also leads to better business performance for companies and higher growth for the communities in which these companies operate.

The global workplace equality index shines a light on the obstacles women face at work, from major companies failing to ban sexual harassment at work or failing to implement policies that allow mothers to work flexible hours.

Equileap drew its data from companies in 23 countries, including the UK, US, Japan, Germany and Australia, The company provides data on gender equality used by fund and index providers to construct so-called gender lens investment strategies.

WATCH: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?