'Motherhood penalty’ creates financial services gender gap

Motherhood is a key driver behind the lack of women in top roles in financial services, according to research commissioned by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which says more evidence of ‘what works’ is needed to tackle the disparity

A study by research consultancy Public First looked at the barriers to women getting top jobs in both inside and outside the insurance industry.

It found the single biggest reason for the gender seniority gap is working patterns associated with motherhood. In order to reduce the gap substantially, it needs to be easier for part-time or formerly part-time employees to advance.

Options to do this include making more senior jobs explicitly available part-time, making job-shares easier and more attractive and allowing more rapid advancement opportunities for women who, having worked part-time, come back to full-time work.

The research also suggests sexism is best tackled by organisational redesign, not training. Ways of doing this include better use of interviews to make them more structured and ability-based, not free-form.

The report indicates that current research on the impact of training to ‘remove’ bias is unconvincing. There is a lack of evidence that anti-bias training results in a systemic increase in promotion, or a reduction in the gender gap.

It also concludes that the insurance and long-term savings industry has put in place a very large number of interventions, as have other sectors. But there is little correlation between the interventions that companies are using and what can demonstrably be shown to be working.

Amanda Blanc, ABI chair said: ‘This report shows that mothers still face a huge challenge to make progress in their career when they return to work. We want to speed that up and the evidence shows that tackling the “motherhood penalty” may be the best way to do this.

‘While I have no doubt that many of the people at the top of the industry are fully committed to change, it is simply not good enough that in 2018 there are 60% fewer women at board level than entry level.

‘To change this we need to focus on what interventions work, not what makes us feel like we are trying. Only then will we start to see the seniority gap close.’

Tackling the gender seniority gap: what works for the insurance and long-term savings industry? is here

Report by Pat Sweet

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