High-level positions in professions such as financial services fall short when it comes to diversity, particularly in terms of gender.
Even though entry level gender parity is good, the proportion of women dwindles drastically with the more senior and managerial positions in nearly all international markets across different industries.
According to an ACCA report entitled Women in Finance: Beyond the numbers, women account for 2 per cent of board positions across the six countries of the GCC – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Women fill only 17 per cent of all executive roles in the profession in the UAE.
With women set to succeed on so many levels, statistics reflect an unpremeditated bias in the mechanisms powering career advancement, which is affecting the progress of the financial services profession as a whole.
Individual-level professional development drives organisation level progress. With a broader, more diverse talent pool and improved human capital, firms can ensure the best possible group of candidates sit at their helm. However, structural obstacles are limiting this professional development amongst certain groups of employees.
Highly capable female practitioners are failing to climb the career ladder the way they should due to a lack of opportunities. This results in a lack of diversity at top managerial and directorial levels, incurring costs to individuals and business firms.
LinkedIn recently found that a lack of female leadership was perceived as one of the top three obstacles preventing women from advancing in financial services – making it a vicious circle. Women are unable to grow and therefore there is a lack of women in leadership positions to encourage career-oriented women to rise to the top. It is vital that professionals early in their careers see people like themselves in the positions they aspire to have. This allows individuals to broaden the scope of possibilities they perceive for themselves, motivating them to aim higher.
In a workplace culture that so often draws distinctions especially in terms of gender, qualifications are an invaluable tool. Professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) allow candidates to arm themselves with tangible proof of their skills and professionalism in the form of accreditation and certifications. With these, career growth is less subject to the power of bias. The ability to communicate professionalism with well-founded integrity and work ethics evens the playing field, giving all professionals an equal chance to progress in their career.
The CISI and similar organisations offer their members unlimited resources for continuing professional development. Platforms like these significantly empower professionals to focus on, and enhance, their skills, knowledge and ethics.
Through these unbiased processes of accreditation and education, women are able to rise up the career ladder with progress proportionate to their merits. In a male-dominated industry such as financial services, these chances for development and recognition are crucial in producing a top-level talent pool that represents the diversity of the workforce in this region.
With financial services firms undergoing a significant paradigm shift with tech advancements, new entrants in the market and a demand for a more regulated financial environment, having a flexible, innovative workforce is a priority. To ensure this, it is critical that leadership must not only be equipped with capability, but also diversity.
It has been proven time and time again that workforces with gender parity at all levels are more forward thinking, which leads to a more positive workplace culture, greater connections with clients and more improved competencies. The resilience offered by a variety of different genders, nationalities and backgrounds is an asset that should be acknowledged and addressed in a dynamic and fast-paced industry.
It is crucial that we recognise the value of fair representation in professional environments and break the patterns that are preventing women from succeeding.
Celebrating diversity and providing every professional an equal chance, regardless of gender, cultivates a high standard of professionalism not only in the financial service profession, but also in all industries.
Matthew Cowan is the regional director of Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) in the Middle East