Emma Ann Hughes highlights further steps needed to attract diverse talent to the profession
2019 gender study by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) found that across financial services, women make up just 17% of approved individuals.
Despite the regulator declaring back in 2016: “Our message is clear: whether you are the regulator or a regulated firm, diversity matters. A diversity of perspectives and thought, when part of an inclusive culture, results in better judgements and decision making in the public interest,” female representation in the profession today remains remarkably unchanged since 2005.
If the profession is to become more diverse and inclusive, it is important that we understand what work has already taken place to address make-up of the sector and grasp what further steps are needed for financial advice firms to attract and retain a wider array of talent.
As Anna Sofat, associate director of financial planning firm Progeny highlights, the first step is widespread recognition that there is an issue.
She says: “Across financial and professional services we have a problem in attracting recruits from a diverse range of backgrounds. We need to be brave and admit this, as this is the first step in changing the status quo.”
While the FCA’s statistics make for depressing reading, the PFS’s graduating classes show the make-up of the profession is gradually starting to shift.
This year, for the second year running, three out of 10 PFS graduates were women – demonstrating an evident shift in the gender split of the profession.
So, what action is starting to be taken by firms to make it clear to women this is a profession you want to enter and stick with?
Along the road
Gemma Siddle, Chartered financial planner at Eldon Financial, says her business has outsourced the writing of role descriptions when hiring.
She explains: “We discovered the language used can significantly affect the diversity of applicants. We have also introduced more flexible working patterns to accommodate people in different circumstances.”
To ensure that women who join the profession are encouraged to progress, Vicki Foster, head of inclusion and diversity for St James’s Place Wealth Management (SJP), says her business recognised that changing the internal culture to ensure it was inclusive is key.
Across financial and professional services, we have a problem in attracting recruits from a diverse range of backgrounds. We need to be brave and admit this
For example, SJP has created safe spaces for a variety of conversations to take place.
Ms Foster says: “Once you create an environment of trust where everyone’s voice can be expressed freely, you really begin to understand that everyone has their own frame of reference – it is important we embrace this.”
Like SJP, Progeny recognises culture is key and has set up a diversity and inclusion committee.
Progeny has also put its executive board through a training programme to increase knowledge and awareness of these issues.
Ms Sofat says: “This will be the beginning of a journey towards a better understanding of how we can create a more inclusive and representative profession.”
Financial advisers agreed it was important that senior leadership in the profession made it clear our sector appreciates different viewpoints and is one where women can thrive.
As Sharon Sutton, managing director of Thornton Chartered Financial Planners and past president of the PFS, points out, role models can make a massive difference.
She notes that one of the biggest things she feels she has done to make the profession more diverse and inclusive was to start her own company 20 years ago.
Danny Cox, head of external relations for Hargreaves Lansdown, says an important lesson for the profession to learn is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improving diversity.
He says: “The two measures which have made the biggest difference at Hargreaves Lansdown are accountability at senior levels and creating employee networks. Our CEO Chris Hill is our accountable executive for inclusion and diversity, driving our action plan.
“We also support our seven network groups and events which promote equality, diversity, inclusion and teambuilding. Their role is to support and educate their colleagues, while challenging the business to make change where it is needed.
“As examples, our Cultural Diversity Group and Kaleidoscope, our LGBT+ group, were instrumental in our support of the St Paul’s Carnival and Bristol Pride in recent years.”
As well as getting out there in the wider community and showing your commitment, SJP says firms should articulate the positive impact diversity and inclusion work has had in terms of the culture of their business and reception from clients.
SJP’s Ms Foster says the real benefit of diversity for her business has been in unlocking diverse perspectives, seeing things in a different way and approaching problems from a different mindset.
She says: “Harnessing the benefits of diversity helps us to become more creative and innovative, which any business knows is imperative in today’s dynamic world.”
During the last three years, Sarah Lord, president of the PFS and chief client officer of Succession Wealth, says her business has shifted to offering flexible working, enabled colleagues of all faiths to practice their religious beliefs by providing a prayer room, plus improved its recruitment and development systems.
These actions have resulted in increased female representation on the senior leadership team, up from 30% to 49%.
Ms Lord says these changes have created an inclusive culture at Succession Wealth, “which is integral to our employee and client engagement and aids with our diversity of thinking”.
As the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) points out, tackling structural disparity – and increasing diversity and inclusion – in the UK is fundamental in enabling economic growth to benefit all in society.
The CBI notes that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity on their executive team are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than those in the bottom 25%.
On ethnic diversity, the CBI reports that top-quartile companies are 33% more likely to outperform on profitability.
As CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn says: “The case for change is watertight: diverse companies are better companies.”
Emma Ann Hughes is communications director of the PFS
Additional material from Bobbi Sills is communications executive of the PFS