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Gender should be ‘irrelevant’ in financial services

IA spoke to prominent women in the Isle of Man financial services sector to discuss progress and change


Achieving equality and diversity in the financial services industry takes some planning and willingness to change. But it may also mean pushing people to think about things a little bit differently.

“We should not be interested in gender anymore, we should be interested in qualifications, interests and passions,” Karen Badgerow, chief executive of the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority (IOMFSA), said to International Adviser.

Karen Badgerow

Acceptance of women in the sector must come from the top – and Badgerow believes that gender “should be irrelevant as much as age is irrelevant” during the application process.

Dismissing gender as an issue in IoM financial services is not difficult, as during a local census in 2016 women made up 55% of the sector.

But Micky Swindale, chief executive of KPMG Islands Group, said attitudes play a key part in attracting more women to the sector.

She told IA that it is about, “getting people to challenge their own unconscious biases and think about how their attitudes are shaping the decisions that they make, and where they may be playing it far too safe when making that recruitment choice”.

“The ‘how to improve’ is not easy. Does it need to be improved? Absolutely. I am very passionate about that. It has taken a long time to get change, the progress has been really slow.

“But how you stop that is to get everyone to want to change. That is quite a struggle.”

However, Cathy Dawson, chief compliance officer at RL360, believes equality shouldn’t just be an act to fill quotas.

Cathy Dawson

“Financial services should be promoted to both men and women. I really don’t like positive discrimination,” Dawson said to IA.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities for young people on this island. Traditionally, women go into certain roles, such as compliance and HR, but I feel that both men and women have equal opportunities to progress their careers on the island.”

Progression in the sector

Once women step into the financial services world – how do they progress their career?

A 2017 report by UK newspaper The Financial Times’ found 45% of the women employed in the Isle of Man financial services sector were in a senior role.

Lillian Boyle, chair of the IOMFSA, told IA that progression comes through “taking opportunities”, and not being afraid to “push your boundaries and comfort zone”, even if it is quite daunting.

Dawson agreed that grasping opportunities is a big factor and admitted that the large range of opportunities is “one of the most sellable aspects of life insurance”.

She added: “Going from the fact I flunked my A-levels, I have managed to get to an executive position in this organisation, therefore people can do the exactly the same.

“It’s all about attitude, grasping opportunities and determination. You can do all that and have a very successful career.”

But what are the opportunities in the sector?

Education was frequently spoken about during the interviews as something that breaks down the barriers and shines a light on people’s motivation to reach the top.

Gill Marples

Gill Marples, head of Integralife International, told IA: “I think education opens up doors. I think we still live in a society where qualifications, study and self-development still mean something.

“There is no doubt that you find the area that you’re interested in, you engage with it more and it encourages you to develop. Study can also upskill you.”

As it has her: “I came quite late to financial services. I did the professional qualifications with Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).

“I also decided to do an MBA in USA, which has helped me enormously but that was funded by the company I was working for. I made every opportunity to make sure I could learn from it and put into practice what I was learning.

“The sector is great at encouraging people to study and funding study, and looking for areas of people want to studying in. So, take full advantage of that and take everything that is on offer.”

Find a person to shadow

Sometimes self-education comes with support from a mentor – someone who can help you hone in on the skills to succeed.

Sarah Dunnage

Sarah Dunnage, chief executive of Ardan International, told IA, “working with the management team” and “finding a mentor” can play a big part in a career in financial services.

And having a mentor was a huge influence for Badgerow’s career.

“My superintendent in Canada, who was the head of the organisation, was female. I always admired her, she travelled a great deal and her kids were the same age as my children,” she said. “I always admired the fact that we would be sitting in an internal meeting and if one of her multiple phones rang, and it was from her kids, she would take call.

“I admired her bravery in the sense that she made her importance to family very clear. By virtue, that simple act of making sure she will be there for her kids – gave the rest of us permission in how to conduct ourselves.

“It was very interesting because she was head of the organisation during a very tough time of the financial crisis and had to stand against some pretty tough and formidable male characters in the sector at the time.

“She stood her ground and it was a really very tough time, I always admired her determination to dig in. I think about her a fair bit in this role, and the abilities we need to dig in a bit harder.”

Listening to the everyday people

All the women interviewed named different mentors; but one who came up, time and again, was Boyle – who is the “go to” figure “in the industry”, according to Marples, who has worked with Boyle on trade associations.

But Marples believes role models at the top shouldn’t always be the key speakers for progression.

“It worries me slightly that we come to get answers from women at the top, I think a woman at every stage can contribute. There shouldn’t be pressure on anybody to say ‘you are a woman and you have to get to the top to prove you can do it’.

“It has to be on merit, ability, and an appetite to get to the top. There is slightly too much pressure on women who are in leadership, but that is probably from the fact that diversity has to be encouraged.”

Promoting the flexible industry

Having great speakers in the industry tell their story is one idea to help women believe that financial services is a sector for them, but those interviewed insisted that “flexible” working environments should be used as a key promotional incentives.

Flexibility was a key word for Boyle, who was the first female UK president of the CII, and it is a necessity for her while she works in the sector.

Lillian Boyle

Boyle said: “We are at a generation now where a lot of people are having to look after others.

“As an employer, I think you have to be very aware of the domestic situation that your employees are in and create an environment where you can still get the best from them and offer opportunities.

“I’m particularly involved the MS Society because my husband has multiple sclerosis and, through that, you can understand not wanting to tell your employer that they have got it for fear that they won’t get opportunities. So, I think we have got to be much more aware of issues that people might have that may be perceived as negative.

“The flexibility issue is a key one to get more people into the workplace.”

One piece of advice

What advice would these women give their younger selves?

“Challenge your comfort zone, be very brave and grasp every opportunity that is offered to you,” Dawson said.

Dunnage responded with, “I would say that you must always be fair and ensure that what you deliver adds value to the organisation you are in”.

“Your career is advanced by you, no one else, you must drive it forward.

“Persevere in your ambitions, don’t get distracted by others and always try to get a balanced global perspective of the sector and organisation in order to give a true view on events.”

Micky Swindale

Swindale added: “Knowing what I know now, I would probably say that I don’t have to try so hard to fit in. It is the fact that you are different that makes you good.

“I think sometimes, and typically when I was younger, the way to get on was to fit in and be one of the boys because that made you much more comfortable to work with.

“I don’t think there is much need for that now. Celebrate your differences. Bring your differences to the table they are what make you powerful.”

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