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Would gender-based hiring targets work in financial services?

Female banker

A Melbourne Business School (MBS) report released earlier this month has recommended that establishing gender-specific recruitment targets is crucial to improving diversity in the workplace.

The report indicated that many Australian employers have been slow to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, although one its authors says financial services is at least moving in the right direction.

“I am not aware of any one industry that is doing as much as it can to generate gender diversity, however the financial sector is attempting to correct the current imbalance,” says Dr Jennifer Whelan, research manager, Centre of Ethical Leadership, MBS.

Westpac CEO Gail Kelly, for example, sais last year that she wants 50 per cent of the bank’s senior management positions filled by women by 2017.

Dr Whelan believes workplace diversity could be improved by incorporating gender targets into performance indicators and reward/remuneration systems for managers.

However, in practice there is still work to be done. Victoria Biggs, partner, Platinum Pacific Partners, says there are not enough women to fill senior management roles. 

“There is a definite ambition by the banks to increase female workers in the industry but, when it comes to recruitment, the banks won’t compromise on equality over the quality of an individual, be they male or female,” he adds.

Moreover, the shortage of female bankers begins at the bottom, with Biggs suggesting that just one in three investment bank graduate jobs are taken by women, often as a consequence of narrowly defined academic criteria. “For instance, 70 per cent of commerce undergrads majoring in finance are male, so if an employer’s focus is on candidates with this degree, then this creates a diversity issue from the outset.”

Demanding working hours, coupled with the male domination of the profession, often result in more women ditching their banking careers after a few years, she adds.

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