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E2W member Guinevere Taylor - why do women leave Financial Services?

E2W member Guinevere Taylor - why do women leave Financial Services?

Katie.Dix / 24 Jul 2019

E2W member Guinevere Taylor - Associate Director at RBC Global Asset Management

Whilst there are now more women in top tier roles and present in boardrooms than there has ever been, there is still a gap in middle-management. Women start careers in finance in equal numbers to men, but more females tend to leave when they reach this point. A recent survey by PwC (Seeing is Believing: Clearing the Barriers to Women's Progress in Financial Services) showed that men outnumber women by almost three to one at the middle-management level. For women who stay there is clearly a reward, with more now being recognized at the top, so why do so many still continue to leave?

The overwhelming reason I was given about this subject was childcare and the cost. Women tend to reach middle-management between the ages of 29-40, which corresponds with when they tend to have children. Some said that paying for childcare made it simply not cost-effective to return to work. According to a survey by The Guardian, apparently one in three mothers is put off having another child because of the high cost of childcare, with the UK having the highest childcare costs in the world! This is especially true for single-Mothers, who sometimes do not have anybody else to help. I can whole-heartedly relate to this from my own personal experiences, where I had to move back into my parents’ home when my marriage collapsed at the end of my maternity leave. If I hadn’t done that then I simply would not have been able to afford to work, as my childcare costs were more than my mortgage payments at that point and I simply couldn’t afford both on my own. It's not easy! One of the comments I received pointed to Sweden for the answer, where there is government intervention and employment policies to help, through subsidized childcare, flexible working and parental leave for both parents. I think the UK government needs to look at what they can do to help and follow Sweden's lead.

Linked to childcare costs is that women are still seen as the natural parent of their child and as such there tends to be more reliance on Mothers to do drop-offs, pick-ups, the school run, manage sick-days, attend parents evening and plays etc, whilst still managing their full-time jobs. Women are eight times more likely to take on these responsibilities than men (according to The Business in the Community’s Gender Equality Campaign (formerly Opportunity Now)’s recent survey ‘Equal Lives’). I've often been asked how I manage to juggle my many roles and a recent film starring Sarah Jessica Parker called 'I Don't Know How She Does It' articulates the struggle well (and I think is a must see for all working Mums)! This dual role can go against the culture many people mentioned (in previous feedback on the topic) of middle-management in finance having to be 'chained to their desks', or the 'first one in and last one out', even if they’ve finished all their work. There is still a lack of flexible working in many companies (not all) for people at this level and some companies are still resistant to 'set a precedent' by allowing a manager to work from home and then having to allow other team members to do the same. There is also still a stigma and bias against Fathers being too involved in this part of parenthood and many Mothers don't like letting go too much; they want to do it all. This can push some Mothers to leave and pursue other careers where they can work more flexibly and keep both the role of the Mother and career woman. For this to change the UK needs to embrace agile working and the Fathers role more. I think this is starting to be recognized and acted upon, but more change is still needed.

Are women leaving more, or are men just more afraid to leave? This was an interesting angle that I hadn't really thought about before and came up a few times in feedback when talking about the topic. Society, on the whole, still tends to tell men that they should be the bread-winner and as such they aren't as free to take the risks and leave the rat race to start-up their own businesses. They also receive less parental leave at many companies, meaning that they don't experience the break from work that most Mothers do and therefore don't have this taste of what life could be like without a commute, office politics etc. I think there is definitely some truth in this argument and the culture of how men are treated as Fathers does need to shift. The ‘Equal Lives’ survey showed that around nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for both women and men to take time out of work to care for their family now, but that that they aren’t doing it, even when there are family-friendly policies in place enabling them to do so. More needs to be done to level the playing field for both men and women and more flexible working, career guidance and mentoring needs to be given.

Lastly, I found in my own research around bullying and harassment towards women in finance. According to the PwC survey more women in the financial services experience bullying and harassment than the average for all other industries (43% compared to 34%). There is also a ten percent increase quoted in the amount of women who have experienced actual physical harassment. Fortunately I've never experienced this myself, but I have witnessed it. I don't know why this is higher; is it to do with the old boys club mentality of superiority, or the high pressure of the industry? It needs to stop whatever the reason. I believe this can only be combatted by stricter policies and a good 'tone from the top' stating that this type of behavior is unacceptable. Women shouldn't be made to feel unsafe at work.

What was clear in my reading is that whilst there is a problem, it is being recognized and vocalized now. People are trying to do something about it. This can only be a good thing. Through government help, good leadership, strong and consistent policies and a shift in mind set I think we will create change for the good, in the end.

If you would like to contribute to our blog by sharing your thoughts on topics or your career story please contact Katie.


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