March 08, 2016

Laura Ahto: On Retaining Women in European Financial Services

Laura Ahto

Laura Ahto


As we prepared to mark this year’s International Women’s Day in Brussels with a series of events and debates, I read Mercer’s new global report which focusses on where women are thriving, where they are not, and suggested strategies to address the issues.

The report states that despite growth in female representation at top levels, European organisations are not on track to make any improvements at the professional level and above over the next decade. They predict that women will make up just 37% of those at the professional level and above in 2025 – the same percentage as today.

This is an alarming statistic. I grapple with how this can be possible in a society where men and women are treated as equals and with so much rhetoric on the importance of gender diversity by businesses and politicians. The challenge is how to accelerate change, beyond that which will come naturally with time.

The female talent pipeline is an issue. My colleagues in Frankfurt shared a worrying perspective recently in a discussion about gender diversity in Germany’s asset management industry. Recruitment consultants are indicating that there is an unrealistic demand for female managers, as well as specialists. Around 10% of managers and 20% of the specialists in asset management are female, but demand calls for up to 30-50% female candidates, at least on the long list.  I would expect this perception to be echoed across most European markets.

To address this, I am of the view that we need to address why women’s careers tend to stall in their 30s. We need practical solutions. For example, a broader range of flexible work options, paid leave, on-site day care and other programmes. Businesses embracing these programmes in practice could help retain female leaders.

I think business leaders need to also take a look at their training programmes. Men and women are different, and those differences create the value in gender-balanced teams. But to date, most companies’ efforts to train and develop women in Europe are based on what works for men.

I would also encourage female leaders to not be shy to leverage their feminine skills, such as creating and nurturing relationships, through collaboration – emotional intelligence. Developing objectives which not just focus on the end result, but how the end result is reached. The increased complexity of the business environment we are now in requires diverse thought and perspectives, both technical and behavioural. This will only be possible if feminine skills are an equal part of the game.

It is not to say that men are unable to develop their feminine side as well of course. This is about both genders recognising both masculine and feminine skills that blend together in order to achieve objectives in a respectful and sustainable way.

So much progress has already been made – we need to work together to move forward further.

To join the conversation on International Women’s Day, you can follow the hashtag #IWD2016 on Twitter.

To learn more about BNY Mellon’s diversity and inclusion commitments, click here.