Women Still Fighting Bias In Financial Services Industry
September 20, 2018 by Asia Martin
Women have managed to come close to closing the gender pay gap and they’ve proved that a career in finance is almost out there for the taking. But research suggests that they are still at a disadvantage and have to face down bias against them and their abilities.
In part, the shift has come about because women are moving into more C-suites and out of administrative posts. According to Oliver Wyman, an international consulting firm, women made up 71 percent of support staff roles in financial services in 2016. They represented 48 percent of professionals, 40 percent of management roles, 28 percent of senior management roles and 21 percent of executives, the firm said. Those numbers are an improvement from 20 years ago and definitely over 50 years ago. But for all that, the data still shows that there’s a lack of women at the very top.
And it’s not just because women behave that much differently than men in professional or work settings. The Harvard Business Review studied 100 men and women at a large multinational company and found that the two groups received varied and unequal treatment based on how their behaviors were perceived.
Women also face inappropriate behavior at their workplace. Comparing 20 industries, the Center for American Progress charted finance and insurance as the ninth highest industry for filed sexual harassment complaints between 2005 and 2015. One of the most well-publicized gender discrimination cases involving a financial institution was in 1996 when 23 women sued Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley Smith Barney) for sexual harassment and pay discrimination. The case was notoriously referred to as the “boom-boom room” suit. Out of the 6,696 sexual harassment charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017 (not including state and local filings), 83.5 percent were from women.
And yet, in a 2015 research study, the EEOC said these numbers don’t reflect the bigger problem: 90 percent of individuals who said they had encountered some form of harassment didn’t file a complaint about it, the agency said. Partly that was because respondents didn’t associate certain actions with harassment. When the commission surveyed employees about unwanted sexual behaviors they considered “problematic or offensive,” it found that individuals didn’t categorize those behaviors as sexual harassment.
Some say it’s easier for gender discrimination to hide or that it’s become more subtle.
“The environment is difficult to navigate,” said Laura Mattia, the financial director of Raymond James’s personal financial planning program and founder of the Women’s Money Empowerment Network. “There [are] biases that exist that influences how we approach women in finance,” she added.
She says women in financial services and other professional services are given competency challenges that their male peers aren’t. They’re put in a “double bind” where they can’t be simultaneously respected and liked. And they face family planning challenges and “gender wars.”
How Competent Is She?
Advisor Angela Moore, the founder of Modern Money Advisor in Miami Beach, Fla., says that when she was working for large brokerage firms at the dawn of her finance career, it was her older male clients who used to challenge her adeptness. She said they spoke to her like she was their secretary and looked at her as if she weren’t good enough.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Is there anyone here that is more qualified than you?’” she said.
Some clients indirectly expressed that they didn’t want to depend on Moore “for the real stuff like the financial planning and the investment advice.” Those clients would call the firm’s office to check Moore’s qualifications with the administrative assistant and possibly see if she had their account by mistake. When Moore surveyed her peers about these acts and comments, her male colleagues would tell her, “‘I’ve never had that happen before,’ and I’m like ‘Well, this happens to me all the time.’
Stuck Between A Smile And A Mean Face
“We’ve all been brought up learning that as women we’re supposed to be communal and supportive and we’re not supposed to be competitive and struggling to do better,” said Mattia. “We’re dealing with a lot of social norms and stereotypes.”
Women also run into that double bind when they are asked to do work that subordinates would normally do. Sonya Dreizler, an impact investing and business management consultant, said she once asked an acquaintance if she could speak at his event. He told her that her requests to be a speaker hinged on whether she would write name tags at the event’s check-in desk.
Dreizler, the founder of Solutions with Sonya in San Francisco, said she felt the guy was trying to pull rank and make her his assistant. She suggested that he turn to student volunteers for help with the name tags.
“I tried to provide a different solution, instead of just saying ‘no,’” said Dreizler.
The Motherhood Penalty
Corporate America’s strides to support working parents hit a roadblock when it comes to family leave.
According to research by Michelle J. Budig, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, women’s pay decreased by 4 percent after they had children. Men who lived with their children received a 6 percent increase.
Advisor Katie Burke said a former boss once told her she needed to have a “contingency plan for childcare if my nanny couldn’t make it and it couldn’t be me.” Burke, the founder of Method Financial Planning and the co-founder of Equita Financial Network, had recently returned from maternity leave and the nanny fell ill soon after, causing Burke and her husband to work out a schedule to stay home.
Mattia said a woman once told her she was passed up for a promotion because her boss felt it would cause harm to her children, which she didn’t have and had no plans of having.
The War On Women By Men … And Women
Women are sometimes pitted against each other trying to uphold social norms.
One woman who worked for a large brokerage firm and asked to remain anonymous said she was pitted against another woman in her office over clothes. She has sometimes worn “tomboyish” pantsuits, she says, and one male manager would compare her unfavorably to another female advisor who wore short skirts and snug dresses.
“He said [the other advisor] is dressed so nice, you should talk to her about how to dress,” she said. Her manager would give the dress-wearing advisor first dibs “on everything,” she added.
“When you’re in that environment you just think that that’s just normal for the industry and that the industry is this way,” said the brokerage advisor. “You realize this wouldn’t happen in a different industry, but you think this is just what you have to get used to.”
Women exit financial services in the middle of their careers at higher rates than their male peers and at “significantly” higher rates than women in other industries, according to Oliver Wyman. What’s more, women in managerial and executive positions with financial services “are 20 to 30 percent more likely to leave their employer than their peers in other industries,” the firm reported.