London’s financial district has a problem with senior women. Despite the countless programmes to retain them, why do they still drop out in large numbers – and is there a solution? (Financial Times, 16 Jan 2015)
According to Financial Times research, the gap between men and women in financial services is as big as ever. Despite a near 50-50 gender split overall, just 19.5% of senior roles across top City employers are held by women. What explains this?
Common perceptions fall into two camps: women choose it or men perpetuate it. Some argue that jobs are there for the taking, but women choose not to apply. They leave to care for their families or they step aside into the ever-expanding pool of non-executive opportunities for women (a consequence of the Davies reforms).
Others, including the FT, blame the macho culture of banks, together with harassment and gender stereotyping. And researchers have suggested that women get the wrong kinds of support from male colleagues – too much mentoring, not enough sponsorship.
But there is another reason, often overlooked, illustrated in the infographic below. The problem is not women’s gender, it is their networks. Research shows that, in male-dominated environments, women have weaker connections than men. In other words, women face a network disadvantage. There are three reasons for this.
First, the force of numbers. There is a human tendency, well documented in research, to associate with and to endorse people who are ‘like you’. Women are vastly outnumbered at senior levels which means that the people at the epicentre of influence and power in banks are predominately male. On average, women and other minorities have fewer and weaker connections to these dominant coalitions. That makes it harder for them to wield influence and effect change.
Second, where they do have connections to powerful people, women are less likely to use them. They do not put themselves forward for promotion as readily as men do, as Google found, and they are less inclined to negotiate on their own behalf.
Third, women fear a backlash if they are seen to be pushy. And that fear is justified. People think that women who assert themselves by talking alot are less suited to leadership than quiet women, whereas the opposite is true for men: pushy men are deemed to be good leadership material.
(Article continues below the infographic – please be patient, as it may take some time to load.)
It’s true that companies are putting in place all kinds of programmes to address the leadership gap: targeted hiring, flexible working arrangements and education about stereotypes. These solutions will address women’s network disadvantage in the long term.
There is one very simple strategy that can have an effect in the short term: make it normal to be pushy. Help women see what is missing from their network – the senior connections they don’t have and the information and power they lack. Then give them practical ways to fill in those gaps.
The Personal Boardroom framework does exactly that. By showing people the 12 roles they need in their network, and helping them assess where their gaps are using our diagnostic tool, we can reveal what is missing in their network. Our book provides a toolkit for designing an effective Personal Boardroom, and starting the conversations that will lead to a stronger network.
If every woman in the financial district had an effective Personal Boardroom, we would go a long way to addressing network disadvantage.
For a limited time, we are making our Personal Boardroom diagnostic available for free. If you would like to try it, click the button below and register with the code WebBL1Q1