International Women’s Day: Equity for All
Marie has 30 years’ experience in technology, over twenty being within the finance industry. Across her career, Marie has worked for major international institutions, including Group CTO for Sanne Group prior to acquisition by Apex Group, at Coventry Building Society for over four years where she was Chief Information Officer, responsible for building a technology strategy and leading the transformation; and Capital One where she acted as Chief Engineer and was a member of the IT Leadership team.
With International Women’s Day taking place on 8th March, much discussion and focus are turning to the progress (or otherwise) towards equity of opportunity and achievement for women working in the finance, technology and the corporate world more broadly. Of course, international celebrations and awareness-raising events such as International Women’s Day are important – shining a light on both successes and challenges, so that we can tackle inequalities head-on. But this year, it is evident that change isn’t happening fast enough, and we have a long way still to go.
While certain industries have made significant progress, in recent decades, others are lagging behind. In finance, for example, research from Deloitte found that globally, within the financial services sector, the proportion of women in leadership roles within financial services firms has risen to 24%. Far from parity, but this is projected to grow to 28% by 2030, ensuring that future generations of women in the workforce are given the opportunities they deserve to exceed and to lead.
However, in my wider career experience, beyond finance, in other industries the news is not so positive. The tech sector for example is still far too dominated by white, middle-aged men. So, in many ways, finance is leading the way and showing that an attitude shift towards diversity in all its guises, is out of reach. Here, I share some of my advice and experiences on how ambitious female leaders in finance and technology can help to achieve their full potential.
Ensure you are properly equipped
Many of us have facilitated or been on the receiving end of an annual performance review in recent months. I often recommend that women conduct their own performance review of themselves – focusing primarily on the positive attributes and behaviours that you have brought to your role and identify how you can further enhance and develop these skills to benefit your career and business in the coming months. For example, if even an amateur a tennis player has an unreliable backhand, of course, they will drill and practice to improve on this perceived weakness – but not at the cost of neglecting their point-winning serves. Early in my career, my experience as a middle child with two brothers, meant that a childhood of negotiating has made me a natural diplomat in the workplace. More recently, as a working mother, I’ve learnt how to multi-task and produce high-quality work under time pressure. Such life experiences have created ready-made strengths and skillsets for me to deploy in the workplace, rather than wasting hours in training sessions trying to correct my healthy disinterest in small details!
Apex Group is supporting our high-performing talent, helping them to enhance their strengths through our Women’s Accelerator Program, a development initiative designed to drive equity for female progression and diversity at all levels within the Group. By providing program members with new tools and skills to advance professionally and reach their full potential – the goal is to elevate the already high-performing female talent we have in our business.
I have worked across multiple industries, and in some, it was often very obvious that I was in a small minority as a female – and more often than not the only woman in the room. During my time as a consultant, I arrived at an office with two junior male colleagues, only for the customer to assume I was the team apprentice! These types of misconceptions were not uncommon in tech at the time. However, moving into financial services, there were more senior female role models, and that helped me to rethink my value to the firm.
This demonstrates that one of the best ways to redress the gender imbalance that still exists in the corporate world is by having more, visible female leadership – “you have to see it, to be it”. Deloitte’s research shows that for every woman added to the C-suite in an organization, three women rise to senior leadership roles. Known as the multiplier effect, this phenomenon is one of the most important reasons why financial services firms should bolster efforts to achieve gender equity.
Apex Group’s Shadow ExCo initiative was designed to achieve this – a new team of leaders from around the world that were given the experience of being involved in C-suite discussions and business strategies. They brought diversity into every decision and represented a diverse set of future senior leaders, able to bring different perspectives, challenge the status quo and demonstrate how diversity can help improve business decisions and drive innovation. As a result, two women were promoted to join our Executive Committee.
Seeing the change is one thing, but women often need more hands-on help to assist them in their climb the career ladder. Women at the start of their careers need to hear from those who are further along on their career journey. For me, it was a female mentor at the time that I made the jump from senior management to a leadership role, which had an outsized impact on where my career went next.
This is why, as a senior leader, I’ve been disciplined about devoting my time to working with school-age girls to explain the benefits of having a career in technology, improve financial literacy and show them the multiple routes to entry in the financial and tech industries. It’s vital that we do not pull up the ladder behind us – and instead pass on our learnings to the next generation to show them that there is a place for women in our industries.
Equity for all
Further, it is important that women in leadership positions give back by acting as allies to other groups whose ethnicity, age or sexual orientation may create challenges in their careers. One of the key strengths of the team I have recruited at Apex Group is the diversity of thought and perspective offered by individuals with different life experiences and outlooks.
The global pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce, but I remain cautiously optimistic about the direction of travel for the next generation of female leaders in financial services and technology. To regain traction and improve gender equity, now is the time for both individuals and businesses to commit to driving positive change.