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Financial services

Are returnships a solution to the gender gap in Financial Services?


Sylvia Perrins

CEO for the National Skills Academy for Financial Services

We are fortunate to live in a society where both males and females are given equal opportunities to education and there exists employment laws to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.  

So there should be no reason why women cannot compete at the highest levels with their male counterparts during their working life.

 In reality if we look at the profile of senior people in the Financial Services industry it is still dominated by men, despite there being many women in the workplace at the junior levels of responsibility.  This is an important business issue as those leading such organisations need to represent the diversity of the customer base they serve.  To be able to consider issues from different perspectives an organisation needs a more diverse senior team comprising employees from a range of backgrounds, ethnicity and gender.  Additionally, there is a vast range of talent that is not being utilised to the full advantage of many organisations, as I believe that more balanced teams ultimately bring greater returns.

If we are to change this situation, the culture needs to shift to recognise and value the importance of a diverse workforce at all levels. Moving from male-dominated leadership to broader models which engage a wider representation of the workplace will create the climate and attitudes where change can be sustained.

Loss of talent

One particular section of the workforce that I feel is a loss of talent to the industry is women that leave to have children.  It is still the case that the majority of women are the prime carers for their family and this is something they either choose to focus on full time in the early years of family life or want to combine a family and a working life at the same time for either economic or social reasons.  These choices often mean that women do not always realise their full potential and are held back in their careers . While it is true that many firms now offer flexible working conditions, part-time roles and job-sharing, they are often perceived to be taken by employees who are not as serious about their career and want to give preference to their family and other commitments. These employees tend to be women, as they are still the majority in primary childcare and other family commitments.

Women who might leave the workplace entirely to concentrate on their family commitments for a few years are normally keen to resume their careers at a later stage, and want the opportunity to rapidly get back on the career ladder.  However, this is often difficult.

If women knew that when they leave there was a structured programme to keep them involved in the organisation, and were updated on developments occurring in what is a fast-changing Financial Services industry, it might make their transition back into work that much easier.  Supporting such women could also provide a return on the previous investment already made in them before they left the workplace.  

Creative solutions

This is where returnships, also known as returning professional internships, come in.  These schemes offer support such as coaching and mentoring, networking, short term placements in school-term times, which all enable the women to feel part of the organisation and able to make a future contribution when they are ready to make a fuller work commitment.

In my view this makes good business sense. By enabling women to have an easier transition back to work, the investment in them will be realised in the long-term.   Employers that demonstrate how important the diversity of its workforce is to them, particularly at the senior levels within the organisation, will be the model organisations of the future and should have a competitive advantage over their rivals.

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