While the number of women in senior financial services positions has increased, there is still a problem finding their way into mid-management and executive committees. A new report from PwC illustrates how they feel their careers is hampered, and what can be done to help progression.

While efforts to improve gender equality on boards in financial services is proving successful, the pipeline of women coming through is still blocked.

A new report by PwC, ‘Seeing is believing: Clearing the barriers to women’s progress in financial services’, finds that the next rungs down – namely mid-tier management and executive committees – still see women hold too few positions.

Of 290 female financial services professionals aged between 28 and 40 questioned by PwC this year, 53% believe diversity status (whether gender, race, age) can be a barrier to career progression.

Nearly 60% of new mothers in FS fell they’ve been “overlooked” for career-advancing opportunities.

Many have experienced inappropriate language or insults (43%) or sexual innuendo and harassment (36%).

However, 80% are confident in their ability to lead and fulfil career aspirations, with 60% having pursued and negotiated a promotion in the last two years.

But what more can be done?

Fair and transparent promotion and appraisal processes are required, they say. Training and education programmes for employees are also desirable – along with skills assessments.

Next, clear definitions of roles and progression opportunities and criteria will help people understand what is required to climb the career ladder. The setting-out of diversity objectives and metrics to help track and promote a change in workplace culture were also requested.

Companies must focus on “transparency, dialogue and trust,” said John Terry, PwC partner and its global financial consulting leader in a blog. “Leaders must deliver on their promises to improve diversity and inclusion. This means being clear to women on the objective requirements for progression and identifying and supporting future leaders,” stated Terry.

“Management needs to create the kind of environment that lets women balance their personal and professional aspirations by promoting a culture that embraces and doesn’t penalize people for flexible work arrangements. But as the report’s title says: Seeing is believing. Women can’t simply accept promises anymore; they need to see actions.”

Kevin Reed is one of the UK’s most senior accounting and finance journalists. He is a former editor of Accountancy Age and Financial Director, and writes regularly on corporate and professional services governance.

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Further reading on this topic:

Martin Gilbert: Gender equality has a long way to go, but a shift is taking place