Although there has been a lot of progress in gender equality in the 21st century, female professionals still face barriers in the financial services industry. In higher-ranking positions in the finance sector, in fields from asset management to private equity, the number of female professionals is still significantly below that of men.
From entry-level to managerial positions, women in finance have reduced chances of promotion to C-level positions like chief investment officer and chief executive officer, even when they take on as much work as their male colleagues. Women leaders are also less likely to be rewarded for promoting inclusivity and gender equality in the workplace.
Besides the lack of gender parity in leadership in the finance sector, there are significant wage inequalities between men and women. The mortgage sector is one of the financial industries with a significant wage gap.
Out of approximately 114,000 mortgage underwriters in the US, 59.3% are women, while 38% are men. Female mortgage underwriters earn an average annual salary of $59,651, while men earn $65,706. This means women earn 91 cents for every dollar men earn.
This article highlights some of the barriers women experience in the quest for equality in the corporate sector and women in finance who have risen above the equality barriers in corporate America.
History of Barriers for Women in the Workplace
Historically, women have always had fewer working and earning opportunities than men. Beyond child-rearing and taking care of the home, most married women had no professional work opportunities in the early 20th century.
The laws at that time locked women out of some jobs such as civil servants, doctors, and lawyers by denying them educational opportunities. Women without education were only qualified to work in factories or as domestic workers.
Despite the barriers women faced in entering the workforce, many prevailed, and by 1930, nearly 50% of single women and 12% of married women worked outside their homes. These numbers continued rising due to several factors. In the 1940s, as men joined the army to fight in World War II, women were conscripted in the workplace to provide essential services to the war effort.
After the end of the war, many women continued working outside of the home. By the 1970s, 50% of unmarried women and 40% of married women were employed. During this period, more women had access to education and clerical jobs.
American society was beginning to embrace the idea of married women getting jobs, and the laws gradually eliminated some employment barriers for women. Women continued to further their education to gain employment, and many got a college education during this period.
With more women participating in the workforce, Congress passed laws to protect women against discriminatory practices that characterized the labor force. Women were allowed access to credit from financial institutions without a cosigner, and laws were established to protect women against sexual harassment in the workplace.
During the 1990s, more than 74% of women had gainful employment, and many took up roles in the workplace that women in previous years could not access. More women became doctors, lawyers, and leaders in the workplace, and women could finally earn as much as men.
Improvements to Promote Diversity in Corporate America
Women in finance have achieved significant, meaningful success in the corporate world throughout the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Still, they continue to face many barriers. The wage gap between men and women remains in most professions. There are significant disparities in the number of men and women working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.
Some improvements that organizations can make to improve diversity include:
Eliminating Wage Gaps
Wage gaps are prevalent in most sectors in varying degrees. For instance, women in the mortgage industry earn 91 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.
Organizations can eliminate wage gaps by being more transparent about wage discrepancies. Transparency about wages will increase accountability within organizations, ensuring all employees receive equal pay regardless of sexuality, race, gender, disability, and ethnicity.
Since the pandemic, 42% of women have reported experiencing burnout. Lack of flexibility for women who are caregivers in their homes, the workload for women in managerial positions, and pressure to perform are some of the reasons women gave for experiencing burnout in the workplace.
Giving support to female employees who have children and allowing flexible work time for all employees can promote inclusivity and prevent burnout.
Skill-Based Assessments During Employee Recruitments
Focusing on skills when recruiting employees can reduce unfair bias against women in finance and other fields. During job recruitments, companies can use structured questionnaires for interviewing candidates or assign them standard tasks related to the job to test their skills. Skill-based assessments ensure hiring decisions are based purely on merit.
Diversity Education for Managers and Employees
Sometimes, people are not aware that they are being discriminatory. Educating leaders and employees on diversity can help shed light on various forms of discrimination, which can help them avoid any actions that may perpetuate inequality.
Forced training may increase people’s bias against certain groups. Therefore, organizations must ensure that any diversity training programs are voluntary. Diversity education should not be a one-time event but a regular and continuous process in all organizations. With continuous diversity education, organizations can create a culture of inclusivity in the workplace.
Specialized Mentorship Programs
Companies can improve inclusivity in the workplace by developing inclusive mentorship programs. For example, pairing male juniors with female mentors can encourage women’s participation in leadership, show men that women are as qualified as them, and bring value to an organization.
Firms can also establish special college recruitment programs for women and other minority groups to create a diverse workplace and give minorities a chance to be part of the management team.
Improving the Complaint System
Inequality persists in corporate America because most organizations’ complaint handling systems respond too slowly to employee discrimination complaints. Companies can speed up their responses to complaints by offering informal mediation where complainants can have conversations with discriminative colleagues guided by a mediator. Organizations can also create support groups for minorities to bring any discrimination cases to authorized parties.
Why Women Make Great Leaders
A recent study showed that women leaders were more willing than their male counterparts to support their employees and felt more responsible for their well-being. Most female leaders would also go out of their way to help employees manage their workloads and advise them on navigating challenges in the workplace.
Women who occupied senior positions in organizations were also more involved in promoting diversity than male leaders. Due to their close connections with employees, most women in leadership know the challenges minorities face in the workplace, enabling them to develop measures against discrimination and offer better support to minority groups.
The study also found that female leaders in minority groups spent more time outside their work responsibilities on activities promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Women Set a New Standard for Leadership
Despite many setbacks, women have made great strides in business leadership and continue to promote diversity in the corporate world. One such woman is the founder and president of A and N Mortgage, Neena Vlamis.
As a leader, Neena works to promote diversity and inclusion at every level of her organization, including leadership. She recognizes the challenges that working women and minorities face and tries to work with people in these groups in her mortgage company.
Neena, whose heritage is part Indian, Swedish, and Irish, has promoted a culture of inclusivity at A and N Mortgage and provides an environment that allows all employees to grow. She prioritizes supporting her employees and has created a leadership program to give them more autonomy.
Her commitment to her team A and N Mortgage thrive amidst the uncertainty of Covid-19. During the pandemic, Neena provided training for her employees, hired new leaders to enhance her company’s marketing, recruitment, and business development efforts, and found new ways to connect with her staff.
Although female leaders like Neena at A and N Mortgage do a lot to promote the organizations they work for, many of their efforts go unrecognized. Neena believes more incentives should increase women’s participation in the US workforce and the finance industry. Giving women support, initiating programs to eliminate gender bias, and recognizing the efforts of women in finance is an excellent place to start.
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