Who’d be a banker? Hot on the heels of LIBOR and PPI, the financial services sector now has another reputational issue to solve. It has the second-largest gender pay gap in the UK after only the construction industry. Banks are under increasing pressure to show they are taking steps to decrease this gap and bring more women into senior level roles. And with social awareness campaigns like #PayMeToo and government initiatives such as the Women In Finance Charter, the clock is ticking .

Over the last six months, Wilbury Stratton has conducted gender diversity projects for two of the Big Five UK banks. Unsurprisingly, both vividly demonstrated the struggle that banks still face to attract female talent. Aggregated perception analysis studies across both projects indicate that on average women are 14 percent more likely than men to rate banks as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ as prospective employers. But interestingly, if you speak to women already in banks, the perception is markedly different.

Female professionals outside the industry perceive banks as having ‘unsupportive working environments’, ‘a negative culture’ and ‘outdated, misogynistic attitudes’. These views were less often shared by sources currently employed in banks who, naturally, were better informed about the industry and the progress it has made in creating a more equitable workplace.

Several HRDs at major banks confirmed that the main struggle is “getting women through the door”. This indicates that recent changes in the financial services culture are not yet getting through to the wider market and the latent talent pool that sits outside the industry.

What then can financial services firms do to broadcast their changing attitudes and signal their commitment to an inclusive, gender diverse environment?

Based on our consistent engagement with industry thought leaders, Wilbury Stratton is able to present some common factors which have been successful in allowing firms to communicate their gender diversity. These are as follows:

Co-ordination of activity across functions – Firms which have ensured a close collaboration between marketing and HR functions express less of a concern about attracting female talent. They believe their joined-up approach to employer branding work guarantees that increasing amounts of women will have a positive view of the business. Furthermore, HRDs recommend close liaison between HR & Talent Acquisition for exactly the same reasons. As one HRD put it, “if everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, the tune is a lot louder”.

Implementation of programmes focused on increasing women’s confidence/assertiveness – A number of HRDs emphasised the importance of frequent and plentiful initiatives. Not only do these have specific positive outcomes but, cumulatively, they reinforce a culture of inclusion. For example, a number of banks have rolled out schemes focused on increasing women’s confidence and assertiveness. This is seen as important in encouraging women to be bold in negotiating pay rises and promotions.

Global consistency – Most banks operate on a global scale, with multiple locations. This can lead to a lack of uniformity in tackling gender diversity issues. The danger is that a bank develops pockets of excellence but suffers from a negative global reputation. Thus, HRDs spoke passionately about the need to harmonise diversity initiatives. A globally integrated HR strategy means that all locations can aspire to – and quickly achieve – the standards of the best location.

Wilbury Stratton is a global talent insights organisation, supporting talent decisions for global leaders.