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Change has been slow, despite the willingness of financial services groups to sign up to diversity and inclusion initiatives © Anna Gordon/FT

Concerted action to raise the number of women in the top ranks of the UK’s financial services industry have stalled over the past year despite a high-profile three-year government campaign to close the gender gap.

A rise in the number of male applicants for the Financial Conduct Authority’s Senior Managers Regime — whereby individuals in key roles at regulated companies must gain approval from the watchdog — outstripped an increase in those from women in the year to March, according to an analysis by law firm Pinsent Masons.

Applications for SMR approval among men rose 64 per cent over the period versus 57 per cent for women, as the FCA extended the regime beyond banks to insurers.

The decline comes despite a three-year initiative led by the Treasury to increase the number of women in the most senior roles in the City.

Women made up 26 per cent of the total 695 applications, down from 27 per cent in the previous year, according to the analysis.

Only six FTSE 100 companies had a female chief executive in 2018, and none in the financial services sector.

The number of signatories to the government’s Women in Finance Charter, which commits companies to setting targets for promoting women and publishing their progress, has snowballed over the past 18 months — 350 groups had signed up by July this year, up from around 160 in February 2018.

But despite the willingness of financial services groups to sign up to diversity and inclusion initiatives, change has been slow.

“The problem of a long-term lack of senior women within the financial services sector is obviously never going to be solved in a single year,” said Elizabeth Budd, a partner at Pinsent Masons. “For some firms in financial services, good intentions and improved hiring and mentoring policies have yet to deliver results.” Signing up to the charter was a “first step”, Ms Budd added.

However, a report by think-tank New Financial published last month showed most signatories had not taken any of the actions required by the charter before signing up.

Brenda Trenowden, global co-chair of the 30% Club, which lobbies to get more women into top corporate jobs, said while the charter helped bring accountability to improving gender balance, more needed to be done.

“The key is now to focus much more on the ‘I’ in D&I — diversity initiatives won’t hold if the culture is not inclusive,” she said, “and also to invest in training middle managers as culture is experienced through their behaviours”.

Companies reported concerns about a shortage of female talent, particularly with backgrounds in investment and technology. Signatories to the charter also predicted that slow turnover in the most senior roles could make it tough to meet gender diversity targets.

Women are faring better at the mid-level, however. Applications for regulatory approval for these so-called controlled function roles increased last year at a faster pace among women than for men.

Applications from women climbed 3 per cent to 3,598 in the year to March, while those from men fell by 1 per cent to 15,961, Pinsent Masons’ analysis showed.

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