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Women in finance

lea sicat reyesZEPHYR

It cannot be denied that women remain to be underrepresented in the world of finance. According to the most recent statistics published by Catalyst, a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s leading companies to build workplaces that work for women, show that women in finance continue to be outnumbered, outranked, and paid less for the same work done.

But there is a silver lining in an otherwise dismal picture.

The same statistics show that there has been an improvement of the number of women holding executive positions in the top 20 global financial services firms. This translates to 18 percent which accounts for a five percent uptick as compared to 2014.

Some countries also made good on their promise to achieve better women representation particularly in the financial sector. It would seem that Canada is the poster child for these efforts with women in finance representing almost half of the total workforce. These numbers span senior management, middle management, and professional jobs based on Catalyst’s statistics.

It is worth mentioning that 25 years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, 179 countries signed a Programme of Action which promoted the rights of women and girls and their empowerment. Since then, important gains have been made but a lot of things can still be done. While yes, Canada alongside countries like the United States, Australia, France, Finland, and Germany register a promising trend, other countries still need to catch up.

An article published on forbes.com entitled “5 Things You Need to Know about Women in Finance” highlighted key insights from women who best embody the proverbial “been there, done that.” Such insights seem to merge into one manifest challenge: Women, do not be afraid to break barriers. Create opportunities where there are none. Fight for a seat at the table on your own terms. Keri Gohman, president of cloud-based accounting and payroll SaaS provider for small businesses Xero Americas, best put it in a quote published on the aforementioned article. She said, “When I allowed myself to be the boldest version of myself, I realized I was more willing to take risks, to be more powerful — and my true capacity was unleashed.”

What Gohman did at the outset is a cautionary tale for women in finance. She initially wasted too much time and energy “on trying to fit into male-dominated environments.” Physically and emotionally spent, she finally realized that what she was doing was not going to be sustainable. She changed tactics and decided “to redirect her focus entirely into doing great work and doing it her way” instead of endeavoring to fit in day in and day out. That decision made all the difference. By staying true to herself, that is, being unapologetically female, she succeeded and built a career in investment, banking, insurance, and accounting.

It should be noted that the financial sector still face the same perennial difficulties where gender equality in the workplace is concerned. Progress continues to be hampered by traditions, social norms, stereotypical views and biases, probably even the fear of change.

It undoubtedly reeks of naiveté to think that change can happen overnight given how deeply entrenched these beliefs, biases, and fears are. In fact, the latest report by the World Economic Forum says it will take another 170 years to achieve gender equality at the rate things are going.

The world certainly cannot afford to wait that long. This is the reason why sustained and collective action should be done and without delay. On one hand, governments, non-government organizations, and companies should work together and take concrete steps towards bridging the gender gap in the finance industry. On the other, women in finance should recognize the innate power they possess. In the same Forbes article, CEO of Boomer Benefits, a licensed insurance agency, Danielle Kunkle aptly stated it when she said, “Female producers are some of the highest achievers in this industry. You can go get your license tomorrow and be welcomed with open arms by employers and carriers alike. The future is bright here for women.”