By Daniel Hunter

Nearly half (48%) of women working in the banking industry believe they face career barriers because of their gender, and one third (36%) of men agree, according to a report published today (Monday) by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

The Women in Banking report is based on in-depth research with over 800 men and women working across the banking sector. It explores why so few women are working at senior levels in banking, the challenges they face and what banking organisations can do to address the issue.

The research reveals a mix of cultural and organisational barriers that make it progressively difficult for women to rise to senior levels within banking. The five biggest barriers to female career progression (listed in rank order of importance by women) were;

· The attitudes of senior male managers (72% female v 53% male)
· The greater proportion of men in senior roles (70% female v 54% male)
· The current organisational culture (61% female v 52% male)
· A lack of flexible working opportunities (56% female v 41% male)
· The lack of female role models (41% female v 33% male)

At a junior level, 38% of women and men acknowledge there are barriers to female career progression. At middle management level that figure rises to 65% for women, but falls to 33% for men. The higher up the management hierarchy, the more visible these barriers are for women and the less visible they become for men.

42% of women agreed their organisation should do more to ensure gender equality at all levels of the business compared to 28% of men. At middle management and senior levels combined, there were large differences of opinion between men and women, with 51% of women believing more should be done, compared to 29% of men.

Overall, 87% of women felt some form of positive action was needed, compared to 67% of men. Flexible working was identified as the number one solution by 68% of women, compared to 42% of men. A third (33%) of men felt there was no need for action, compared to 13% of women.

Just 19% of women and 10% of men felt quotas should be introduced to balance the proportions of men and women in senior roles.

There is little sense that career progression in banking is based purely on merit. 48% of respondents said promotion was determined by who you know, whilst only 22% believed that people in the industry were promoted on merit alone.

“At a time of intense scrutiny, our banks need the best and most capable people leading their organisations, irrespective of their gender," Charles Elvin, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, said in responding to the findings of the report.

"Our research shows that talented women are still finding it difficult to reach senior positions. Rather than a single ‘glass ceiling’, we see a series of barriers that filter out female talent at each stage of the management hierarchy. This under-representation is in many instances due to the awareness, attitudes and behaviour of senior managers.

“Banks can boost the number of women in senior positions by taking positive steps towards strengthening and developing transparent management processes, measuring diversity metrics and better management of flexible working.”

Banking is a highly competitive industry and progression to board or executive level is difficult regardless of gender. However, statistics clearly show that women aren’t progressing as far or as high as their male counterparts, with just 11% of senior roles held by women compared to a UK average of 28%[1].

ILM recommends the following solutions to help tackle the lack of gender diversity in the top levels of banking.

Transparent performance management processes should be put in place to encourage promotion on merit. Clear criteria for assessing employees on their output, not hours worked or who they know, will benefit the business by rewarding and developing top talent.

Better measurement of diversity metrics will allow banks to raise awareness of the issue which is key to tackling the problem. The figures should be shared with all managers across an organisation.

Tackling poor management practice around attendance and flexible working will address many of the concerns expressed in the survey. Flexible working needs to be both available and culturally accepted at all levels. This means a shift towards reward based on results, not attendance in the office. Managers at all levels need to be trained on how to best organise workloads and support flexible working arrangements.

Banking employers can encourage the possibility of career progression for women by raising the voice and visibility of successful female leaders across their organisations. Especially seek out female role models who have maintained a good work/life balance.

Establishing and supporting programmes for sponsorship, coaching and mentoring of women would address the lack of confidence surrounding career progression. Senior male executives should sponsor and mentor aspiring female leaders, and vice versa.

The research also reveals that:

· Women are less confident in their own abilities compared to men and have lower career expectations, reflecting the findings of ILM’s 2011 research Ambition and Gender at Work:
o 36% of women in middle management roles expect to still be in their current job in ten years’ time, compared to 14% of men
o 42% of female middle managers expected to reach senior manager level in ten years, compared to 70% of men
· However, women were far more likely to ask for pay rises and promotions than their male counterparts. 78% of women in middle management and 75% in senior management admitted to asking for pay rises and promotions, compared to 65% and 53% of men in the respective position

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