According to Women in Financial Services report by Oliver Wyman, “Globally, only one-fifth of Boards and 16 percent of Executive Committees in financial services are comprised of women.” This slight improvement since the report was last published in 2014, indicates that “it will take a further 30 years for Executive Committees in the financial services industry globally to achieve 30 percent female representation.” To gain more insights into the report, caught up with Mathieu Vasseux, Partner and Head of Financial Services MEA region, Oliver Wyman.


What is the main reason for gender disproportion in the financial sector?

Vasseux_MatthieuIt’s not that the financial services industry does not recognize the benefits of diversity. The executives we interviewed in our report ‘Women in Financial Services-Vol-2’, both women and men, acknowledge the benefits. Gender balance is an important aspect of diversity. It provides access to the full talent pool, better decision making by bringing together different perspectives, better service to customers by better representing them, and a stronger economy, thanks to greater and more effective participation in the workforce by women. It is that well-intentioned organizations have not found the right recipe and combination of ingredients, such as flexible working arrangements, sponsorship, and cultural change. Partly, the problem is that diversity is too often seen as part of corporate social responsibility or fairness in the workplace, rather than as a commercial imperative.


What is the strategy that businesses / countries are adopting to change this equation?

We see our client piloting new initiatives: top down sponsorship by most senior ladies in the organization, shifting their new hire intake towards women; at one of my Saudi banking clients, women are 75% of new hires as a way to rebalance rapidly, launching cultural change programs.

What is driving female executives in financial services to leave their employer more than their peers in other industries?

To find out why, we conducted a survey of 850 financial services professionals in 12 countries that included asking about their levels of ambition and willingness to make sacrifices in their private lives. Our survey results expose a career conflict that women face at mid-career level. Between the ages of 30 and 50 their willingness to make sacrifices in their private lives drops significantly below that of men; and between 40 and 50 their ambition level is also lower than that of men.

How can businesses in the GCC increase representation of women in Executive Committees?

Getting women onto ExCos is difficult. It requires organizations to build a strong female talent pipeline below senior executive levels. Anyone appointed to an ExCo position must have demonstrated her ability to perform the role. By contrast, Board members are often recruited from other industries. Even if the promotion pipeline includes women, there is often a perception of risk associated with appointing them to the ExCo.

The role of leadership is to look beyond the concrete steps and to assess the current state of their organizations. Start by:

–          Developing an Internal Labor Market map to understand how many women and men are being recruited and promoted, and how many are exiting;

–          Perform a pay and progression gap analysis;

–          Benchmark your organization against the industry;

–          Seek honest feedback; and

–          Assess culture to identify where unconscious bias exists.

What are the main challenges that could occur in their way?

Achieving gender balance is partly a matter of the firm’s culture, but it can also be advanced by concrete measures and structural solutions. First, put an ExCo talent pipeline strategy in place: Meaningful change requires greater female presence on ExCos. Be prepared to expend political capital to shift in this direction. Put forward a more thoughtful approach to flexible working and family support initiatives: Getting this right is vital for helping women overcome the mid-career conflict and retaining them. Put forth a vision and an ambition and communicate it throughout the organization. Address the gap with flexible work (especially for mid-level or senior roles) and remove the stigma around using flexible work options. Get men and women to make equal use of parental leave. Find solutions to the return ship challenges and avoid viewing women differently post-maternity.

In your opinion, what is the added value that women – especially in managerial positions- can bring to the workplace?

AXIR Consulting

The executive decision process is more balanced when performed by executive teams with good gender balance. We also see women to have longer term commitment/lower churn in their job bringing more continuity and consistency to the team.