Careers for women in business are not attractive

Women are exceeding expectation academically, making up 60% of graduates in many developed economies. But despite this, the advances made by women in business in the different sub-sectors (banking insurance, advisory and consulting) are not following as they could.  And once in those sectors, women are not achieving senior roles. This was a tweet at after work drinks in  London that went out only yesterday.

Most MBA programmes are increasing their numbers of female applicants which now range between 30-40% depending on the school, but not at 50%.  But although women with MBAs are on the rise  in the U.S. they are still not feeding the business sector as much as expected. Sally Blount the Dean of Kellogg School of Management  wrote that based on previous trends, the projection for women pursuing business careers in the U.S is as follows:

“50 percent of the women graduating from top MBA programs in 2017 will exit the full-time US workforce within 10 years of graduating—either because they choose to step out or are “forced out.” This trend does not portend well for future progress.

There are two areas where women have different experiences to their male colleagues:

Read: 5 Expert Tips Every Business Leader Should Know

Women are not opting in

say yes women in business

Why aren’t women opting in?

Sectors such as consulting and financial services (banking and insurance) are incubators for fast track business careers but continue to be male dominated.  Outside of MBA programs women tend not to study business focused subjects (math, engineering, economics) and recruitment drives are still not creative enough to target anything more than the usual suspects. Even when they do study business related subjects, this sector has a low branding appeal.

The financial services and banking sector as a whole has a poor public image, whether Wall Street or the City.  Once perceived as a secure haven, this sector is now regarded to be high risk, with a white-collar sweat shop culture, especially associated with dubious practises and work related stress following the financial crisis in 2008. This reputation is not helped by the way the sector is portrayed in the media with a 24/7 presence cultures, characterized by the Wolf of Wall Street, boiler house misogyny. There are also fewer female role models to put these myths into context let alone debunk them totally.  

The statue of the Fearless Girl facing off the charging bull has been embraced as a perfect metaphor for gender balance on Wall Street. The image of a man simulating a sex act on the statue of the girl has embedded that negative image even further. The fact that the name of the perpetrator was never leaked is said to be testament to the power of the Old Boys Club that prevails to protect “the guys.” It’s hardly surprising that at entry-level women are still not earning the same as their male counterparts even from prestige schools such as Harvard and Yale.

Read: Why women self-deselect from career opportunities

Women are opting out once they are in

The next challenge for women in business comes mid-career. At a time when their male counterparts are pushing for stretch assignments women are making choices around pregnancy and child care. Here they are encountering the full force of implicit bias from the largely male dominated hierarchy. With women still carrying the burden for childcare and domestic chores they are competing against men who have the luxury of not having to factor this in. Negotiation within the context of their own relationships is critical, or being willing to allocate a portion of income for childcare solutions or outsource low value work. Finding mentors and sponsors as well as strategic allies to support them through this period is necessary, preferably someone who has walked in their shoes. If no internal mentors can be found an external mentor would be invaluable.

Read: Gender balance is a relationship issue first

A report from Ernst and Young  investigating gender balance in the sector says: 

Men and women within financial services see the gender parity problem differently and have different ideas on how to solve it. While 72% of women feel their gender is the single biggest under-utilized pool of talent, only 54% of men agree. Both sexes agree that an inclusive corporate culture is one of biggest enablers of women’s careers. An inclusive culture encourages diversity of thought and experience and builds women’s confidence, which many respondents told us was an issue – women don’t put themselves forward enough. It’s hard to be confident when you don’t feel included.

Once in even in organisations with 50% balance at Middle Management level, there is still a yawning black hole at senior management level.

Editor’s update: Breaking News!!!  Charging Bull artist wants Fearless Girl removed. That pretty much says it all!   


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