There is much talk about the under-representation of women in senior roles in the financial services sector and many discussions about how to address this.
One option is to implement a quota system, requiring organisations to hire a certain number of women to fill particular positions. However, filling these quotas is not easy due the lack of women with the required skills to do the job, or even with an interest in a particular position or area. Many organisations have launched campaigns to encourage women into the sector at different stages of their career, including some that target girls at school. The effect of these campaigns is yet to be seen and the battle of choosing the correct person for the job versus filling quotas remains.
Brickendon last year joined the UK government’s Women in Finance Charter to show our commitment to building a balanced and fair industry. Over the past 14 months we have made good progress towards our targets as set out in our initial Women in Finance Charter application, and have appointed Clare Chalmers to our board as a non-executive director.
Clare is a highly-experienced adviser in the area of board effectiveness within the financial services sector and has already played a significant part in guiding Brickendon’s senior leadership team. Here she discusses some of the issues close to her heart, including the future of the financial services sector, the importance of strong leadership and the role of women in the business world.
What are your hopes and fears for the financial services sector now and over the next five years?
“I started in the financial services sector over 25 years ago and the magnitude of change over that period is unprecedented. There have always been regulations, but none as comprehensive and explicit as they are now. My main hope is that the regulatory system we now work within deters some of the bad behaviours seen in the past but does not stifle creativity and entrepreneurialism. I also hope that any further governance and regulatory changes don’t deter the sector’s ability to embrace the digital age.”
Your expertise lies in the area of leadership, how important do you believe it is for a company to have a strong leadership team? What are the most important traits for a good leader to show?
“Dynamic and empathetic leadership is paramount in my opinion. The leadership team’s understanding of culture, level of integrity, set of values and behaviours, all contribute to determining the ethos of the organisation. Having the right leadership helps to establish the right behaviours.
A strong CEO with an equally strong senior leadership team will demonstrate priorities and lead by example to build and sustain the business. Communication skills, being involved and not directing from afar are key attributes pertaining to good leadership, while maintaining an understanding ear to the ground is key to recognising what is really going on in the business.
My list of key qualities for good leaders would include the ability to develop others by motivation and inspiration, as well as having a clear vision for the direction of the organisation. Words that spring to my mind are empathy, inspiration, commitment, communication, decision-making and delegation.”
It is no secret that females are under-represented in the financial services sector. What does this mean for the success of the sector and how can we help to change this?
“Progress is being made, however it is a lot slower that most of us would aspire to achieve over a given period. We need to bring the excitement of the sector into the education system a lot earlier, whilst at the same time seek to retain more senior women who have risen through organisations. By including women in both the graduate and lateral hiring processes, organisations demonstrate diversity is at the top of their agenda.”
As a high-flying female yourself, what do you feel are the benefits of a diverse workforce?
“Only recently in The FT, I was reading about a harassment case that took place in 2010. One of the recommendations in the report as to how to avoid situations like this arising, was to hire more females as women bring a different perspective, values and culture to an organisation.
However, the benefits are wider ranging than purely gender, and having a diverse mindset when hiring naturally gives a wider pool from which to select top talent thereby increasing cognitive diversity. Having a diverse workforce brings different thought processes, different perspectives and a wealth of differing experiences.”
The global landscape is changing, and digitisation is becoming part of everyday life in finance, business and social affairs. Brickendon too is expanding its mark in this area with the introduction of new products through Brickendon Digital. How do you see the emergence of the digital landscape playing out in the business world?
“I am very excited about Brickendon’s new products, particularly as financial institutions are investing in digitisation as a means to enhance their product offerings. Challenger banks are posing an additional strain on the more traditional market incumbents and therefore the latter will have to invest more in digital technology to maintain their existing client base and compete with the disruptors.
I think financial services organisations in particular, are re-thinking their strategy in today’s increasingly regulated world, and will therefore be more open to finding businesses that can work with them to make the most of the new technology. I think that digitisation also requires an element of human understanding, which will sit nicely with Brickendon’s product division and consulting practice.”
(This was first published in Journal 14 in September 2018)