The Gender Equality Network aims to help women get to the top in the Scottish financial services sector

Scottish Financial Enterprise launched its Gender Equality Network (GEN) to support and build on sector-wide efforts on gender equality and gender parity on International Women’s Day earlier this year.

Its aim is to accelerate positive change on issues affecting career progression for women, such as the gender pay gap, senior representation, career pathways, and representation in male dominated sub-sectors and roles such as investment management and tech. 

GEN is already establishing itself as a platform for discussion, best practice, and coordinated action to address gendered issues such as menopause, childbirth and maternity leave, and traditionally gender-associated issues such as childcare.

Yet Jackie Leiper, Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) board member, chief executive of Embark Group, and chair of Lloyds Banking Group’s Scottish executive committee, said that, despite the huge strides that have been made on gender equality in financial services over recent years, it is clear there is still much more to do. “The number of women in senior positions remains disproportionately low, while the gender pay gap remains stubbornly high,” she said.

“The stats show that, while women make up a third of all board positions in the UK’s FTSE 100 companies, just 15 per cent of finance directors in these companies are women. Meanwhile, the average pay gap stands at more than 26 per cent for UK financial services, significantly higher than the 12 per cent seen in the wider UK market.” 

As Leiper noted, Scotland, as a major centre for financial services, is far from immune from these challenges and, as the representative body of that financial services industry in Scotland, SFE is determined to do more to help promote gender equality.

With 34 years’ experience in the financial services industry, she is an advocate of improving financial resilience and awareness of the importance of financial planning for retirement, particularly for women, and is keen to drive societal and political change that will help close the gender pensions gap.

“There is a significant gender pensions gap,” she said. “Women typically have a third of the pension pot of men, due to the long-term ramifications of childcare provision.”

Ms Leiper acknowledges that Scotland has always had a strong financial sector – indeed it accounts for 10 per cent of Scotland’s GDP – with Edinburgh second only to London in terms of importance. And she observes that, at the start of their careers, women outnumber men in the finance sector. But that situation gets turned on its head at middle and senior management levels.

“While there has been a broad acceptance of the 30% Club – the business-led global campaign to boost female representation at board and C-Suite level in the world’s biggest companies – boosting that representation to 40 per cent has proved to be more problematic,” Leiper said.

“That can be attributed partly to women leaving work temporarily to have children. Culturally, the responsibility for childcare usually lands with the mother rather than the father, though that is starting to change.”

At present, 60 per cent of women who return to work after having a child, do so in part-time positions, which are less suited to senior managerial roles.

“This partly explains why the gender pay gap is so pronounced, driven as it is by a lack of women in senior positions,” she said.

According to Leiper, many young women working within Scotland’s finance sector struggle to see examples of strong female role models in senior positions. This is why GEN has undertaken a series of ‘myth-busting’ events seeking to break the glass ceiling by discussing finances, career and pay prospects and helping to counter imposter syndrome.

She cites Judith Cruikshank at NatWest, Elizabeth White at M&G, Debbie Crosbie at Nationwide, and Gail Izat at Standard Life as examples of Scottish women holding very senior roles within the Scottish financial sector.

And within the sphere of professional services, she namechecks Arleen Arnott at KPMG, Sue Dawe at EY, and Clare Reid at PWC, as “super talented” Scottish women.

“While all these women are role models and have very busy day jobs, they are typically willing to take the time out to mentor young women in the industry and ‘send the elevator down’ to the next generation,” said Leiper.

“I think we are starting to see a normalisation of women at the top of organisations. And whereas some female pioneers were very driven and arguably less-inclined to ‘send the elevator down’, today’s high-achieving females working in the finance sector are more inclined to do what they can to help younger females working in more junior roles within the finance sector in Scotland.”

Asked about her views on the findings of a recent Shaping our Economy report showing that socio-economic background is more likely to impact a person’s route to success in financial services than gender or ethnicity, Leiper points out that, with over three decades of experience working in the sector, she is no stranger to discrimination and the need to promote gender equality and gender parity.

“I’m a working-class girl myself and I know that I was different to many of my peers when I started out on my career,” Leiper said.

“There’s a strong, male-dominated culture in Edinburgh’s financial community where many share a public school and university background with a keen interest in golf, football, and socialising over a pint. I wasn’t interested in any of these things, so I had to create my own network.

“But, if anything, I make a play of my grittier background. I think it’s important to push yourself. Back yourself and embrace your differences. It’s vital to build confidence among young women working in the sector.”

Through GEN, Leiper is on a mission to identify and address discrimination, sexism, and stereotypes in the industry.

“This is not just about tackling conscious bias, but also unconscious bias, which is often more widespread and as invidious,” she said.

“The ultimate goal is to tackle the visible and hidden obstacles which prevent career progression for women, while addressing structural issues such as the gender pay gap, senior representation, and career pathways.”

With Leiper and a growing number of female high-achievers acting as role models to the next generation, the days of Scotland’s finance sector being predominantly male, pale and stale are well and truly numbered.

Unequal struggle: what the shaping of our economy report revealed

Socio-economic background is more likely to impact a person’s route to success in financial services than gender or ethnicity, according to Shaping our Economy, a study commissioned by Progress Together and conducted by the Bridge Group.

 It is the largest study into socio-economic diversity and progression in financial services in the world.

Women from working-class backgrounds have a significant ‘double disadvantage’, progressing 21 per cent more slowly than their peers from more advantaged families.

People from higher socio-economic backgrounds are twice as likely to make it into a senior role than working-class ethnic minority women.

White men from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more than 20 times more likely to succeed in financial services than working-class ethnic minority women.

Half of all senior roles in the sector are held by white people from a higher socio-economic background.

wMen from higher socio-economic backgrounds are 2.4 times more likely to be in senior roles than women from a lower socio-economic background.

Nik Miller, CEO of the Bridge Group, said: “This research indicates an important relationship between socio-economic background and gender, with women from lower socio-economic backgrounds progressing more slowly than their peers.”