There are ‘clear opportunities for progression’ for men and women working in financial services, according to the latest Diversity and Progression Report from the Chartered Banker Institute (CBI) and The Finance Foundation.

However, for ethnic minorities interviewed for this report, it was a different story. Only half agreed that they had a good access to progression in the financial services industry, with over 40% identifying unconscious bias as the leading issue that needs tackling, supported by diversity and inclusion training for all staff.

Liese Lord, founder and CEO of Lightbulb Tree – a consultancy specialising in flexible working, says: “It is positive that 70% of respondents feel that there are progression opportunities within the sector. However, when you reach behind these numbers, the optimism for progression opportunities drops with an acknowledgement of barriers.

Lord adds: “The biggest barriers [to progression] within the sector are stated as unconscious bias, family & personal commitments, presenteeism cultures, lack of willingness to culturally embrace alternative working patterns such as part time and a slow cultural take up and embedding of flexible working.

“The report also highlights a significant lack of what I refer to as “relatable role models” within an organisation. These are people in executive and senior leadership roles who are able to instil confidence in the future leadership potential group that progression is not at the significant expense of your non-work life.

“It is positive that 70% of respondents feel that there are progression opportunities within the sector. However, when you reach behind these numbers, the optimism for progression opportunities drops with an acknowledgement of barriers.”

“I have spoken with many women and men who have either stifled their careers or left the sector due to disbelief that they are able to reach their career potential without significant family or personal life sacrifices or lack the desire to conform to the ‘alpha male culture’ which is still largely prevalent; this was commented upon in the House of Commons Women in Finance report.”

Employers need to do more

Claire England, director of Diversity and Inclusion UK, at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) says: “It is well known that a significant number of industries are guilty of a lack of diversity within their workforce. The financial services sector is not alone in having a large number of roles held by white, middle class, privately educated individuals, which is not reflective of society.

“The Diversity and Progression report exploring the career progression of different ethnic groups is therefore relatively unsurprising, but something that businesses absolutely must address. This has been made even more prominent with research published a few days ago by Green Park Group showing the number of directors at FTSE 100 companies from ethnic minority backgrounds is actually decreasing.

“Traditionally, professions such as finance, law and property have relied heavily on connections. As the saying goes, it’s still a case of who you know, not what you know. As a result, those from different diversity backgrounds to the majority have missed out on opportunities for progression.

“Employers need to recognise the importance, and benefits, of hiring and promoting outside of their circles. With more diverse teams, businesses are able to draw on a broader range of skills, backgrounds, attitudes and experiences and therefore will be better equipped to service clients. In fact, it has been shown that companies with diverse teams are 45% more likely to financially outperform the industry’s average.”

“At JLL, we use the Rare Contextual Recruitment System, which asks for additional information alongside academic achievements, in order to recognise when a candidate might be an overachiever within the context of their own background – rather than based on an individual’s expectations.

“Other employers remove personal details and academic history from applications to mitigate against bias. Either way, by doing this, employers are more likely to employ from more diverse backgrounds. Opening up progression also depends on businesses changing their working practices and culture. The diversity characteristics of the majority group should not define an industry’s working culture if talent from all backgrounds are to feel included and welcome in the sector.

“The sooner employers recognise the genuine positive impact a diverse and inclusive workplace can have on their business operations, the more effective they will be. 2020 is just around the corner; so, let’s hope that as the calendar ticks over, we don’t continue to be stuck in the past and the pace of change increases.”