Spending two weeks interning in the financial sector made me fully appreciate the stark disparity between male and female employees. The institution I was working for released their gender inequality figures and the demographic is currently 71% men and 29% women. While this was clearly evident, as on each desk I sat on there was an average of three women for every seven men, I didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place. The financial sector has come leaps and bounds since the 1970s where women were merely objects to be stared at and flirted with, but there is still has a long way to go before gender equality is reached.
The one new method for tackling gender inequality in the workplace, especially in the boardroom, is by putting quotas in place in regards to female employees. At this particular firm, they aim to appoint a minimum of two female board members by the end of 2017. This ‘top down’ method is exactly the problem. The last thing a woman who has reached the level of success in her career to be considered a board member wants is to simply fill a quota. This may not be the sole reason for her appointment, but the doubt will be at the back of her mind; ‘Am I just here to tick a box?’
Board members should be appointed based on merit and not to fill a quota. Quotas should not be required as there should be enough women, of equal calibre to their male counterparts, who want the position. Not enough women are encouraged to stand for these positions and not enough women are reaching positions high enough to make them eligible for such roles in the first place. These opportunities fundamentally aren’t being presented as appealing to women.
This is why I believe gender inequality in the workplace needs to be tackled from the ‘bottom up’. Careers, especially in the financial sector, need to be made attractive and attainable to my generation of women. We need to be encouraged to join and stay in the industries that have such poor gender balances. Therefore, by the time we progress to levels where board membership is in sight, we can be awarded that position because we are the most deserving and credible candidate, and not have in the back of our minds that we are just there for representation purposes.
We are the generation where the graduate intake should be 50/50 male and female. We are the generation where future boards should be as close to 50/50, or at least comprise of the most worthy candidates, regardless of gender.
It takes time for change to happen, especially in the financial sector, which has been set in its unequal and often misogynistic ways for a century. We can’t expect change to happen over night and change should not be forced upon us in the style of a quota.
It is our parent’s generation’s task to ensure everyone is given equal opportunities across all industries and it needs to be our generation’s mission to create an atmosphere that makes everyone comfortable in the workplace. I believe that this is the only way women will apply for roles in these industries, succeed in them, and get on to boards without the overriding feeling of being a token.