Summary of Women in Financial Services Seminar

On September 22, 2016, Elizabeth St-Onge, a Partner at Oliver Wyman—a leading global management consulting firm—presented the findings she helped collect along with other Oliver Wyman staff that were published in its second “Women in Financial Services Report” which explores the status of women in the financial services industry. The presentation was an event co-sponsored by the Initiative on Central Banking and Financial Policy, the Gender and Public Policy Specialization at SIPA, and the Center on Global Economic Governance, at Columbia SIPA. Patricia Mosser, the director of the Initiative on Central Banking and Financial Policy, delivered the introductory remarks.

St-Onge prefaced her presentation by stating that “the [financial services] industry is in crisis.”  She also emphasized that the motivation and hypothesis for the study was that women in the financial services industry today face a different landscape than those who began their career in the earlier half of the twentieth century.

Having produced its first “Women in Financial Services Report” in 2014, the 2016 report details an analysis of nearly 400 financial services organizations in 32 countries of which nearly 850 financial services professionals were interviewed.

When asked to spearhead the research efforts for the report, St-Onge noted that her immediate response was one of apprehension. “I was a little intimidated,” St-Onge stated during her presentation, “the consultant in me wanted to address the challenge with a problem solving lens.”  The imperative behind the second edition of the Women in Financial Services report was the financial industry’s failure to make meaningful progress on female inclusion.

To kick-start the research, St-Onge described holding numerous focus groups at Oliver Wyman with junior female consultants, who, throughout the rest of the presentation were characterized as “millennial women.”  This methodology, along with qualitative and quantities analysis was used at a number of financial services organizations, to aggregate findings published in the report.

Some of the key findings that St-Onge highlighted are the following:

  • There are more women leaving the industry than those entering.
  • Generally, recruiting is no longer an issue—where 50% of incoming consultants are female
  • Female representation is growing on financial services boards and within executive committees, with 2016 numbers documenting just 20% and 16% respectively
  • By 2048, financial services executive committee representation will have roughly 30% female representation
  • Women report four main issues affecting their career choices:
    • Insufficiently flexible working options and stigma for using them
    • Insufficient support for family responsibilities (for both women and men)
    • Shortcomings with regard to predictable, transparent, and equitable promotion processes and equal pay
    • Persistent sources of low inclusion in culture affecting women such as ‘invisible’ unconscious biases and traditional assumptions

Where exactly are women who hold executive roles in financial services? “They are concentrated in HR and marketing roles” says St-Onge.  Such roles typically are as high as women go given that the roles of those who eventually become CEOs are heads of business lines or revenue generating components of a business more generally.

During the conclusion of her presentation, St-Onge reiterated that what has changed re: the status of women in financial services are the visible and tangible organizational structures, programs and processes.  Contrarily, the “invisible assumptions, values, perceptions, and biases” haven’t changed very much.

Following the presentation, many students queried: Where do we go from here? What are the next steps?  St-Onge, as well as academics present during the discussion, encouraged members of the audience to seek to develop the ways in which we can measure the unconscious and the invisible.  Moreover, St-Onge emphasized that women interested in a careers in financial services should not be discouraged by the “Women in Financial Services” report and continue to aspire to obtain senior roles within financial organizations.

To read the full report, please click here.

Jerrel Baker MIA ‘17
Department Research Assistant