Women in Finance Awards 2017 shortlist: Will diversity be the UK’s biggest competitive advantage?

From biased managers to a dearth of relatable role models, we dissect the issues standing in the way of women in finance, while highlighting the high-achievers and advocates for women in the sector through the Women in Finance Awards 2017 shortlist.

Women in Finance Awards 2017 shortlist

Every report and study into the barriers for gender diversity in corporate Britain takes us one step closer to unearthing the issues that lie at its core. In a single breath, industry commentators laud London for retaining the mantle as the world’s top financial centre, while calling out the sector for being the worst at retaining and promoting women past middle management.

The burden of societal and organisational expectations, biased managers, the lack of flexibility or empathy, and a dearth of relatable role models are just some of the barriers for women in financial services. As varied and hard to crack as these issues may be, research from multiple experts highlights the benefits of building a community of relatable role models in male-dominated sectors.

The Women in Finance Awards aims to be the finance industry’s largest diversity initiative to do just that.

Identifying trailblazers

Celebrating the high-achievers, advocates and role models for women in the sector, the Women in Finance Awards is an inaugural event of its kind, working to level the playing field for early-to-mid career women in the sector.

The programme celebrates these role models in middle and senior management, nominated by themselves or their peers, to encourage a new tranche of women in the early phase of their careers to break through barriers and grow within the sector. The idea is to tackle the main obstacles standing in the way of female representation in senior levels in finance, that of mid-career stagnation, the lack of role models and mentors in the sector, and countering the gender pay gap, hiring and promotion biases.

Supported by the HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, trade bodies, advisory firms and companies of all sizes, the event will bring together key stakeholders to raise awareness of the sector’s diversity problem as well as celebrating inclusion, leadership and finance excellence.

The shortlist

Nominations for the Women in Finance Awards closed in March 2017, raking in 432 submissions across 14 categories. Through a rigorous vetting process, 119 nominees have been shortlisted to compete for the title of industry leader of the year.

An independent panel of judges will meet on June 15 to decide the winners, which will be announced at the black-tie gala ceremony on June 29 at the Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, Park Lane, London.

Woman of the Year

As the headline award for the evening, this category recognises an inspiring leader who has challenged, influenced or revolutionised the culture of the business and financial services sector. Judges will be looking for nominees who have demonstrated a positive impact in bridging the gender gap in the sector through mentoring, training and other initiatives.

Rising Star of the Year

This award recognises the best and the brightest talent in the early phase of their career. Judges will be looking for nominees who have a unique and inspiring story to tell, demonstrating personal development and deeper contribution to their company and the industry.

Advocate of the Year

This award is open to a company or person that has gone out of its/her/his way to support the cause of getting more women promoted fairly in the last 18 months. Judges will assess the nominees’ role in establishing and developing initiatives and training schemes and its impact on, and integration with, the business.

CFO of the Year

This award is open to chief financial officers who have proven to be strategic visionaries for the business. The winner of this category will have contributed to delivering financial growth during the past year, demonstrated success in overcoming significant business challenges or barriers, and shown examples of team leadership and superior management.

Specialist Investor of the Year

This category recognises an investor in a sector of the market other than bonds or equities, such as private equity, venture capital, business angel or investing institution, who is making stable long-term returns on their major capital investments over the past year. The winner of this award will be a role model for women in a wide range of disciplines.

Fund Manager of the Year

Independent research reveals that only about 3 per cent of fund managers in the UK are female. This award recognises the a manager who has blazed a trail for diversity in the profession. The judges are looking for a fund manager who has achieved genuine out performance relative to peers and benchmarks over a prolonged period of time.

Wealth Management Professional of the Year

This awards recognises the person in the wealth management industry who has done the most, proactively, to promote diversity in the industry and to find tailored, inclusive solutions to both men and women looking for help with their personal finance.

Financial Adviser of the Year

This award recognises excellence within the financial adviser community in the area of diversity, and in tailoring their solutions and products to the needs of female clients. The judges are looking for an Independent Financial Adviser who can demonstrate a track record of delivering for clients that truly add value, particularly in tough economic times.

Banker of the Year

This award recognises influential and inspirational women in banking.  The winner will have overseen strong financial performance for her organisation over the past year and will have successfully guided the bank in the form of new best business practices, expansion into new markets, or innovation in terms of new products or services.

Accountancy Leader of the Year

This award is open to accountants who have consistently met or exceeded challenging objectives to ensure the highest quality of provision of accountancy and related services. Judges will be looking for examples of how the nominee has contributed to delivering financial growth during the past year, and of team leadership and superior management.

  • Stella Amiss, International Tax Partner, PwC
  • Radhika Chadwick, Partner for Digital Government, EY
  • Faye Hall, Director, Forensic services, Smith & Williamson
  • Abigail Jones, Principal, HW Fisher
  • Heather Miller, Head of Private Client Tax, Price Bailey
  • Myfanwy Neville, Audit, Tax and Business Advisory Partner, BKL

Insurance Leader of the Year

This award is open to the strongest senior-level contender in the insurance sector who has an outstanding track record in attracting and managing clients and bringing in successful deals. It is also open to women in senior diversity-specific roles. Judges will be looking for nominees who have demonstrated exceptional leadership.

Legal advisor of the Year

This category celebrates the corporate lawyers that have broken barriers to advancement and carved out a niche for themselves in finance, as well as paving the way for diversity within their firms. Judges will be looking for those who have demonstrated significant positive contribution to the development, enhancement or success of their employer through innovative practice measures or pro bono work.

Employer of the Year

This award recognises those companies that have proactively cultivated a diverse workforce, aiming to achieve equal gender representation at all levels. The judges will be looking for companies with the most diversity amongst senior employees, the best maternity/paternity benefits, a proven track record in promoting diversity, and the most extensive diversity-supportive policies in recruitment and operations.

Disruptor of the Year

This category celebrates the companies that have reinvigorated gender diversity in the financial services industry by breaking barriers, exploring new markets, creating innovative new products or services, or have established a new effective way of working.

Recruiter of the Year

This category recognises the recruitment firm that has championed equal pay and diversity in financial recruitment. Judges will look for the firm that has added outstanding value to their business partnerships and relationships. They will also be looking for innovation, market insight and profitability.

The event will see around 400 of London’s best and brightest finance professionals and advocates for gender diversity, from accounting, insurance, banking, fintech, venture capital, corporate law, financial advisory, retail investment, and more.

Diversity can be London’s competitive advantage

One of the key drivers for the Women in Finance Awards is to encourage organisations and individuals in the sector to put diversity first. What separates London from other top financial hubs in the world is its history and robust infrastructure. Cities like Singapore and  aren’t nearly as steeped in history as London may be as a financial hub, but in terms of diversity and workplace culture, these markets may prove to be more agile and inclusive.

In the Z/Yen Group’s latest Global Financial Centres Index, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo are hot on our heels as financial hubs in their own right. What will keep London ahead of the pack is the competitive advantage that only financial organisations with diverse leadership teams can bring.

The study’s key markers for competitiveness are the business environment, human capital, infrastructure, sector development and reputation, the latter under which diversity and work culture fall. Any one of the top 10 cities could easily topple London’s reign if the sector doesn’t work to fix the biggest chink in its armour: the fact that only 10 per cent of senior business positions are held by women, despite the proven positive impact that more women in leadership roles can have on organisations.

Real models over role models

Banks and rudimentary financial services may have existed for centuries, as has the idea that the woman’s place is at home. Modern businesses have been developed by and for male leadership, and despite the major steps that have been taken in the past four decades to alter that course, women still find it difficult to fulfil their potential within these structures, according to research from Right Management.

Organisations who want the benefits of engaged and motivated female talent should look to women-owned businesses to understand where the gaps are. If not, they run the risk of losing their best talent to competitors as more women leave to start their consultancies and challenger firms.

According to the Right Management study, female founders list having a mentor as one of the top three enablers of success, allowing them to be open about their personal challenges with somebody with more experience, which isn’t as widely available in established companies. Women need ‘real models’ as opposed to just role models. The study underscores that women benefit from learning from people who are accessible and relatable in their careers and experiences, and those who are open in sharing their failures as well as their success to get to where they are. The persistent dearth of women in leadership roles can leave the talented middle demotivated, without any direct models.

The “pinched middle”

Diversity at the top remains elusive, with the vast majority of firms only managing a small proportion female partners, if at all. Across the board, the average ‘drop-out’ point is when women reach manager and senior manager grade, which is usually when they are in their late 20s and early 30s. A report by diversity consultants Unida and Source Global Research refers to this as the “pinched middle”, where societal expectations of the long-standing female ideal of  ‘having it all’ starts to kick in.

A lot has been written about the issues facing the “pinched middle”, but more often than not, experts are left with more questions than answers. What can truly change societal expectations? Why do so few men opt-in for shared parental leave? Why are women having to choose between work and home? Why is success in the sector still judged by deals made over brandy and cigars at a male-dominated private club?

Challenging societal expectations

According to the Source Global Research and Unida research, there’s no easy answer as to why this is. The reasons are complex, intertwined, and often difficult to separate from one another. Many lie in societal factors and the longstanding cultural expectations that both men and women have of a woman’s role. This may be beyond the remit of individual firms or the sector as a whole.

Others lie in more unfortunate coincidences. Many women are hitting a pivotal stage of their career while also deciding to start families, which often requires time out. The sector as a whole is competitive by nature, and the target-led, fast-paced work environment may seem less appealing or overwhelming after maternity leave. The extreme ‘client comes first’ culture and the lack of empathy from colleagues and managers only serve to exacerbate the issue. Many working mothers also believe a trade-off is inevitable, and this idea is further cemented when they don’t have many women to look up to past the the glass ceiling.

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