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Why finance course providers are targeting women

More women are needed now. Source: rawpixel/Unsplash

In 2016, a Harvard Business Review analysis found women held one-fifth of executive committee roles at 50 US financial services companies. Their representation on the board wasn’t any better, standing at only 22 percent. In terms of chief executive positions, only 12 percent were female.

In other words, the world is sorely lacking senior female financiers.

Recognising this gender imbalance, business schools worldwide have taken steps to fix this growing problem. From offering scholarships to placing a 30 percent representation target on their MBA programmes, many efforts have been made to attract more women into business schools.

Progress, however, has been slow, according to a recent report by the Financial Times (FT).

For the courses listed in FT‘s 2018 global ranking of the top 100 MBAs, women make up 37 percent of the participants, only a slight increase from 33 percent five years ago.

Marissa Mayer’s meteoric rise in tech is notable and she is now CEO at Yahoo! But Mayer represents the minority. More than 73 percent of CEOs are men. Source: AFP/Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

Gender parity still isn’t the reality for Masters in Finance (MiF) courses either, as reflected in the figures from FT’s 2018 ranking. Though it shows an increase from the 40 percent seen five years ago, women now comprise just 42 percent of the student cohort, evidence that progress has been slow.

Such poor representation is a matter of concern, says a former investment banker who took an MBA mid-career and is now a financier.

“This matters because women self-select themselves out of opportunities in finance — at an undergraduate level but also when choosing a business school and then opportunities after their MBA,” says the financier.

“Sadly, this is still an image problem for the industry, but also for the business schools.”

FT‘s report is, unfortunately, just part of the widespread gender gap that still persists in other traditionally male-dominated fields, such as law and engineering.

Despite more women than ever choosing to major in these fields, women still graduate into careers that hire and/or pay them less.

A report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that women still make up the bulk of workers in the lowest-earning fields – education, psychology and social work. All three have some of the lowest salaries across the board and more than 70 percent of workers here are women.

And if they take up traditionally “male” courses like engineering, they tend to gravitate towards lesser-paying majors. For example, the Georgetown report found that female engineering students are likelier to major in environmental engineering, ie. the lowest-paying engineering major. In the highest-paying engineering major – ie. petroleum engineering – only 17 percent of participants are women.

In the world of banking, the stereotype that the industry is “pale, male and stale” remains too.

Speaking to The Guardian, fintech entrepreneur and Starling Bank founder Anne Boden said gender diversity in finance technology has not improved in the more than three decades she’s spent in the sector.

“Women have to achieve more, work harder, and be much more perfect to get the job compared with a man. As long as we have the majority of promotions and appointments being made by men, it’s going to be harder for women to get through,” Boden says.

Professional women are held back by the pressure of having kids, she says, adding that: “It’s not the children holding them back, it’s the perception of other people and the standards they’re held to.”

It is all the more crucial that the industry becomes gender diverse if we want to avert another financial crisis, according to Boden.

“The financial crisis was caused by people thinking the same. It was people not really being challenged,” she says.

“I think that diversity of thought and diversity of people, who reflect the overall population of the customers they serve, can only do good things for business.”

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