PER hosted another successful networking event for women in finance over breakfast at our office at the end of last year. 14 senior professionals attended, sharing experiences and some of the challenges of building a career as a woman in this industry.
Among the topics debated were how women can work more effectively at self-promotion, especially relative to male colleagues; the ongoing dilemma of juggling work and family life, from formal maternity leave to creating a culture flexible enough to work for all parties; and what firms really mean when they say they want diversity – genuinely different perspectives from as wide a talent pool as possible, or a more token version.
PER’s Managing Director, Gail McManus, commented: “We see more and more frequently that women in this industry are looking to come together in a risk-free environment to meet their peers, seek advice and feedback and learn from each other. Each time we host these events, we are amazed by the response we get and by the insights that these women share freely. Gender diversity is one of the few topics where it makes real sense to reach out to peers in competing firms and compare notes, and we hope that by continuing to organise these forums PER can play an influential role in tackling this important challenge industry-wide.”
It was generally agreed at the breakfast that women have a tendency to put their heads down and get the job done while men keep their eyes peeled for opportunities that might arise. Some said they had missed out on promotions early in their careers simply because they weren’t seen by superiors to be looking for or expecting advancement.
To counter this common experience, attendees recommended leaving the chalk face periodically to reflect on the impact of their contributions, calculating financial gains and efficiency savings. They suggested blocking time out in a line manager’s diary to present these figures. That way, one attendee said, there won’t be any confusion about what it is you do for the firm.
The secret of attaining balance is finding a firm that believes, regardless of gender, in life outside the office. One attendee said she had left an overly demanding firm for a role at a family-oriented firm where men as well as women valued flexible working.
When it came to having children, women around the table didn’t want generous maternity provision only to find themselves back working long hours afterwards. They wanted to be able to make time for important moments in their children’s lives, such as the school nativity play. Others raised the issue of shared parental leave, saying it was a great idea for overcoming the gender divide, if only it made more financial sense and men took it up.
Many attendees were very positive about gender balance in their teams and the push for a more diverse workforce. However, some feared that unconscious bias from the very top continued to influence hiring practices. One said that founders tended to come from all-male private schools and had a natural bias towards this profile and an unbalanced network as a result.
Another said she felt used as the token woman in her firm. She’s regularly dragged into meetings that are irrelevant to her to artificially add some balance to proceedings and create the illusion of diversity where, in reality, deals are being led by all-male teams.
Overall, the morning highlighted the value of an active network where the big issues of being a senior woman in fund finance and the day-to-day realities of the role could be discussed among peers from across the industry.
Following the success of this event and the positive feedback we’ve received from attendees, we will continue to bring this network together, allowing the connections made here to flourish.