In the past few years, women have made incredible strides elevating the dialogue around gender equality in the business world. We have disrupted the status quo by pursuing equality in pay and in having our voices heard. Despite this cultural progress, there is still a great need for improvement when it comes to representation – particularly in the financial services industry.
In 2008, the Great Recession disrupted the standard industry model, creating opportunities for women to take center stage. However, the gender imbalance still permeates the industry, just as it did ten years ago. Not enough has shifted to create a more diverse financial services world.
Over the course of my career, I have watched as promising young women wait to be asked to take the next step, rather than pursuing their professional dreams with confidence. I often see a fear that if they ask for what they want, they will be shot down. I also see companies leaving huge reserves of excellence untapped by not fostering the growth of women earlier in their careers. I want to see women be more direct about their goals, and companies better harness the power of diversity, but that often requires a courageous conversation.
That’s why I’m thrilled to see a bold new mentoring program – called Rise Up – to encourage talented women in the financial services industry to stand up and be heard, and to aspire to senior executive roles in their organizations. The inaugural group of Rise Up women will be introduced in October at Money20/20 USA, the financial technology and payments industry’s leading annual summit. Applications for Rise Up are being taken now, with the 30 selected applicants announced in September.
Women continue to remain underrepresented in Corporate America, specifically in leadership positions, and the financial services industry is one of the main areas of this professional gender imbalance. According to a study by Grant Thornton, women make up only 25 percent of senior executives in the financial services industry around the world. Here in the U.S., women represent only 27.8 percent of senior level positions in the financial services industry according to Marsh & McLennan Companies. This drops to 19.8 percent for women who hold board positions and it drops even lower to 1.4 percent for women CEOs.
By maintaining this imbalance, the financial services industry is missing opportunities for significant growth. It is time for the financial services industry to look to the future and foster growth for women. As an industry, we need to focus on encouraging women to be bold and pursue leadership positions. It is vital that we give women equality of opportunity, the confidence to believe in their capabilities, and the courage to articulate what they want to achieve professionally.
Additionally, organizations need to make progress by spotting potential leaders sooner and creating routes to get more women into senior roles. According to McKinsey & Co., the representation of women decreases in every step up the corporate ladder. Still, women themselves need to be bolder and more direct, which requires courage and confidence – assets a good mentor should help foster. It is crucial to encourage women in the early stages of careers so we can have more women in leadership roles in the future.
According to KPMG, two-thirds of women expressed a desire to advance into senior leadership; however, only 40 percent were able to consistently envision themselves in those roles. These figures highlight the confidence gap in women in the workplace.
These results are troubling because having women in leadership roles has great advantages for companies. According to a study by McKinsey & Co, there is a positive, statistically significant correlation between executive team diversity and financial performance. Their study found that companies in the first quartile for diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability that companies in the fourth quartile. By not championing diversity, companies lose potential profitability.
This year, Money20/20 has introduced a new accelerator program, Rise Up, to promote the mentorship of women in the financial services industry. The program aims to help women earlier in their financial services careers to have the confidence, vision and tools to pursue their professional goals.
We are not just facilitating another conversation on gender imbalance. This forum provides a solution and a step in the right direction. Designed to empower the next generation of female leaders, Rise Up offers mentoring workshops, content sessions and exclusive networking opportunities during the four-day Money20/20 conference, October 21 – 24 in Las Vegas. The participants will get to learn from some of the most successful and inspiring names in the financial services industry, including: Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest; Louise Pentland, EVP, Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer of PayPal; Kathryn Petralia, Co-Founder & CEO of Kabbage; Suneera Madhani, CEO & Founder of Fattmerchant; Carol Grunberg, Head of Global Key Accounts of Ant Financial; and Martina King, CEO of Featurespace.
It is time to disrupt the traditions that have held too many women back in the financial services industry. We must support organizations who are already committed to diversity, applaud organizations that want to unlock opportunity through diversity, and empower women to have the confidence to ask for what they want in their dream careers. I am proud that Money20/20 and the financial services industry are working to create a program that will make a difference in fostering the female leaders of tomorrow.