17th May 2017

Conduct and diversity in banking – are we there yet?

Written by Henrietta Royle, Chief Operating Officer

The first female bank branch manager in the UK was appointed nearly sixty years ago today, yet very little had changed in the 1980s when I started my banking career.  I was normally the only woman in in any meeting and it was very rare to see another woman in the room who wasn’t making the tea or taking the minutes.  Things have progressed considerably since then, but we still have some way to go to get meaningful levels of diversity in bank leadership.

The banking industry continues its efforts to make our industry more reflective of the society it serves, and many of the big banks have made public commitments to change the gender mix of their senior management. For example, Lloyds has targeted 40% of the senior management roles and RBS 30% by 2020.

There is a clear business case for driving the diversity agenda forward; neglecting 50% of the talent pool is bad for profits. Indeed, firms in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to produce better returns.

In addition, there’s plenty of research showing that diverse teams are intrinsically valuable; with variety of thought and approach having a direct impact on the culture and performance of any business.

There’s been a big shift in thinking across the industry over my working lifetime. The 30% Club, of which many banks and other financial services firms are members, has challenged its members to ask themselves, if their female employees are not being promoted, are they hiring the wrong women in the first place or are they not developing them properly once they have them?  In all cases, businesses are admitting it is the latter and starting to do something about it.

Another initiative, the Women in Finance Charter, is a collaboration between government and industry to improve executive gender diversity. At the latest count, 122 firms – including the BBA – have signed up to it, setting targets to increase the number of women at the highest executive level and making senior management publically accountable for achieving those targets.

Over 30 banking organisations have signed up to the Charter, and they account for more than 80% of market activity and over 350,000 employees.  I am extremely optimistic that we will now see real change.  It would be a shame if the women entering our industry today look back in another 60 years’ time and find that we’re yet to complete that journey.

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