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The Women in Finance Charter: Four years on

Originally published in BSA Society Matters magazine

By Carole Barlow, HR Director, the West Brom & Women in Finance Board representative for Building Societies and Credit Unions

What is the Charter and what does it mean in practice?

The Women in Finance Charter, launched back in March 2016, is a commitment by HM Treasury and signatory firms to work together to build a more balanced and fair financial services industry.

Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the government’s Women in Finance Champion, led the 2016 “Empowering Productivity” review into women in financial services that provided the foundation of the Charter. The focus of this review was on the Executive pipeline and ‘mid-tier level’ of organisations, on the basis that too few women were progressing to the top level, despite more women than men working in the sector, and too many were leaving.

Over the past four years, over 370 organisations have signed up to the Charter, including 15 building societies. The Charter reflects the government’s aspiration to see gender balance at all levels across financial services firms, quite simply because a balanced workforce is good for business.

By signing up to the Charter, firms are pledging to promote gender diversity by:

  • having a member of the seniorexecutive team taking responsibility and accountability for gender diversity and inclusion;
  • setting internal targets for gender diversity in its senior population
  • openly publishing the progress made against these targets on an annual basis and reporting this on the website; and
  • having an intention to ensure there is a link between delivery of these targets and the pay of the senior executive team

Annual Report 2019

The third annual review of the Charter, launched in June 2020, monitors progress of Charter signatories against the four ‘pledges’ detailed and this year provides a greater level of insight than ever into that progress.

Clearly our world has changed enormously since the submission of the data in September 2019, and our remote/ flexible working capability and ability to ’meet’ virtually has been tested fully. Indeed the launch of this review itself was a great example of how effective remote meetings can be, with over 400 participants to the webinar hosted by New Financial in collaboration with HM Treasury.

A third (33%) of the 187 signatories analysed in the review have now met or exceeded their targets for female representation, however our sub-sector outperformed this and 60% of building societies analysed in the review have either met or exceeded targets.

Building society signatories to the Charter have built steadily since 2016. Seven building societies were in the first cohort of signatories in 2016, four then signed up in 2018, followed by two in 2019 and a further two signatories have been added this year, bringing the total to 15.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen said:

“Championing the Women in Finance Charter and getting better gender balance in the financial services sector is a priority for me as City Minister.

“The evidence shows that firms with diverse top teams perform better. And for building societies, there is an imperative for your staff and leadership to reflect the communities you serve, on gender and other measures.

“I am pleased that 15 building societies have already signed the Charter. I encourage societies which have not yet signed up to make this public commitment to create a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Two-thirds of the 187 organisations in this category have a target of at least 33% (including 9 achieving parity), however targets do vary and range between 5% and 50%, with an average of 36%.

Changing circumstances may also require a change in targets or in the definition/ scope of ‘senior management’. This year a number of organisations raised the bar in their aspiration towards senior female representation.

The Nottingham Building Society has increased its minimum target for female leaders from 30% to 35% having exceeded this target since 2016, in addition to widening its definition to include all direct reports of ExCo members in its leadership team.

Principality Building Society also changed its senior management definition to reflect the introduction of a new grading structure that includes all key decision makers.

Similarly the West Brom is reviewing its definition of senior management for 2020, and in line with a new grading structure, will redefine this population to one that is much more representative of the leadership/ decision makers of the organisation, and the pipeline for the executive level roles of the future.

So, what can we do to help achieve a better gender balance in senior management?

As the Women in Finance Board representative for Building Societies and Credit Unions, I hear many requests for case studies; practical examples of actions others have taken that have had positive results. Our building society representatives for the WIF are a very collaborative group, always willing to share ideas and in turn learn from others.

The annual report itself provides many examples of activities organisations have taken to support their targets, focused on recruitment practices, retention plans and development activity to name just a few.

However just focusing for now on our own sector, building societies are taking a range of proactive steps to support diversity and an inclusive culture in its broadest form. Becky Hewitt, Director of People at Leeds Building Society, has instigated recruitment practices for senior roles to focus on the personal attributes required:

“At Leeds Building Society, particularly for more senior roles, more focus is now placed on the actual requirements for the person and role over the next 2 or 3 years. The personal attributes take precedent, with an underlying base of the technical and experience requirements, which directs the recruiting manager to the differentiating factors of candidates and moves beyond the typical scanning of CVs for job titles and delivery outcomes.

“Candidates can be asked to submit specific evidence of how they meet the key criteria, based on what the role is specifically required to deliver in the short-to-medium term, which can be used to shortlist candidates without reference to the CV”.

At the West Brom we have established a new talent programme, the ‘Career Development Review’, adding much more objectivity to talent assessment and succession planning for senior positions. Candidates have undertaken a range of activities to help a Talent Panel (including members of ExCo and the Board) to assess readiness for more senior roles, and to focus bespoke development where it’s most needed. Initially six of the Society’s mid to senior level females attended this programme, supporting them in their career planning aligned to their own aspirations.

Having worked in financial services for over 35 years, I’m proud to be part of the Women in Finance Charter and work towards more gender diversity in senior roles. Throughout my career, I’ve seen many changes in the sectors approach to diversity, and seen first-hand the benefits it can bring to organisations that get it right.

The Charter has helped shine a spotlight on the extent of female representation in senior positions, however whilst some progress has been made, the challenge is how to accelerate that progress and make a real step change.

Posted by Carole Barlow on 29 October 2020