As with many other professional industries, there is a clear underrepresentation of women in the financial sector. Unfortunately, too few women are reaching management level. This imbalance is improving but understanding gender bias could accelerate the process towards equality.
Government statistics report inadequate levels of gender diversity. Just 23% of board-level positions and only 14% of executive committee roles are filled by women. There are several factors affecting the progression of women in finance. It seems that despite many women starting out in the industry, very few get promoted above mid-tier level. Frustration caused by this lack of progression leads many women to desert the financial sector.
Thankfully, there are some women who have managed to break through this glass ceiling. As Managing Director of investment company Oak Management AS, Joey Horn is responsible for a family portfolio of investments in real estate, venture capital and hedge funds. She actively supports the unbiased promotion of women in the finance industry. Initiatives such as The Women in Finance Awards also strive to improve gender diversity and encourage women into the finance sector.
Research into this issue shows that the number of women in the finance industry follows a pyramid structure; fewer female leaders are represented closer to the top. Recognising this is just the first step towards solving this problem. The issue is whether we should attempt to address this imbalance and how.
The role of unconscious bias may play a part in the underrepresentation of women in finance. Without unconscious bias, life would be far more challenging. Our preconceptions allow us to make quick judgements of situations without agonising over the analysis of every tiny detail. Personal experiences can impact our thoughts and actions, as can common stereotypes.
By its very definition, unconscious bias happens without us even realising. Working against our own preconceived ideas requires a conscious effort. In the workplace, decision-making and peer assessment could be improved by not jumping to conclusions. This would promote a more empathetic approach and break down barriers.
In terms of gender bias, the status quo means that men in management find it easier to hire men. The normalising of certain workplace practices needs to stop; this includes not considering a mother for a role because she might take more time off or not employing a young woman because she might take maternity leave. Theses biases are allowed to continue by society. When society evolves and refuses to accept bias against women, true gender diversity can flourish.