A statue of a defiant girl stands facing the Charging Bull sculpture in the Financial District of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. State Street Global Advisors, a nearly $2.5 trillion investor and unit within State Street Corp., installed the bronze statue in front of Wall Street's iconic charging bull as part of its new campaign to pressure companies to add more women to their boards. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg
A statue of a defiant girl faces Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture in New York, as part of a 2017 campaign to pressure companies to add more women to boards. Despite such efforts, change has been slow and many women still feel undervalued or shut out from the financial services sector © Bloomberg

After a decade on Wall Street, Kristen Fanarakis left an exhausting job in foreign exchange sales because she had enough of being paid “a third and sometimes even a quarter of my male counterparts — despite producing three times as much as they did”.

Ms Fanarakis, who set up a fashion business after leaving the industry in 2011, said unfair pay practices were “absolutely, 100 per cent” the reason for her departure. It was the same for many of her female peers.

“For an industry that’s driven by how much money you make, at the end of the day, it defies logic that the few women who used to work in trading or sales got systematically underpaid,” she said. Devoting her life to the job and believing she was paid less as a result of her gender, she added, was “incredibly demoralising”.

Although policymakers and some financial services companies have made strides to address the issue, change has been slow and many women still feel undervalued or shut out from the financial services sector. Many women working in front-office roles still leave before reaching the most senior ranks, either because of pay or due to a lack of flexibility around working hours.

In the UK, new rules on pay disclosure last year revealed gaps between men and women of “40 per cent to over 60 per cent” in top insurance, accountancy, banking and asset management firms, according to a report presented to parliament last November. Moreover, the report found, for every £100,000 of bonuses paid to men in finance, women received £33,000.

Banks, for their part, say they are ploughing resources into addressing imbalances. For Goldman Sachs, increasing the number of women in front-office roles is “a massive area of focus”, according to a spokesperson, who added the bank runs a trading academy for women and provides childcare facilities for staff, among other initiatives. JPMorgan Chase has set a target to have 30 per cent female representation in its uppermost ranks by 2023.

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Despite efforts such as these, data from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority show the number of women in financial sector roles grew by just 2 percentage points over the past five years to 14 per cent. This is despite more than 300 companies signing up to the government’s Women in Finance Charter aimed at improving representation in executive roles.

Banks argue that recruitment for senior roles is nearly impossible, as there is a dearth of women with sufficient levels of experience. “That’s simply not true,” said Dominie Moss, the founder of specialist London-based financial services recruitment company The Return Hub, which aims to help women with more than five years’ finance experience return to work after taking a career break.

“Corporate UK is built so that one part of society can navigate it without friction, while the other part of the population faces many hurdles in doing the same,” said Ms Moss.

Among the 2,500 candidates on her books, 49 per cent have between 10 and 20 years of experience in finance, and a similar proportion has postgraduate qualifications. But these candidates remain “invisible”, she said, as CVs that show gaps in employment histories are often discarded before they reach the hiring manager. The result is that companies keep hiring the same type of candidate, over and over again.

Hiding pregnancies or returning soon after childbirth is a regular occurrence on trading floors, some female traders have reported. One recalled how she was back to “quoting prices for orders worth hundreds of millions of dollars six weeks after giving birth, my body raging with hormones, because I was worried that my seat was empty”.

Ms Fanarakis said one of her female colleagues went into labour during the release of US non-farm payroll numbers — a key data point for currency markets — after the desk was too busy to allow her time off as she approached full term.

Claire Douglas worked in foreign exchange sales in London for 17 years until 2013. She left soon after having a baby, because her request to work from home one day a week was proving fruitless.

Ms Douglas said she still missed the buzz and would have stayed if she had not felt it was “a choice of whether I wanted to see my children or work in the city”.

“It makes no sense to discard all the experience I have accumulated over the years I worked in FX sales just because working from home one day a week is not an option,” she added. “A lot of attitudes have changed since I left . . . and flexible working is not as unheard of as it used to be, but front-office roles remain the last bastion.”

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