Women pass 40% mark on European financial services boards but hurdles remain
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Europe’s financial services companies are making slow progress on gender diversity, with women accounting for just over 40 per cent of board seats despite making up half of the appointments made at that level in 2022.
The data, in a report released by EY, underline the significant road ahead for employers seeking to improve female representation, which campaigners said was only part of the process for a more equitable financial sector.
“While having half of board seats filled by women last year is a notable milestone . . . quotas by themselves do not address some of the very human issues faced by professional women,” said Nicole Wiley, chief operating and chief development officer at 100 Women In Finance, which supports gender diversity in finance.
Women made up 42 per cent of seats in boardrooms among financial services firms as of January, up from 37 per cent when the same research was completed for the first time in June. Across the FTSE 100, the average was nearly 40 per cent in 2022, according to previous research by EY and Cranfield School of Management.
There was a divergence in performance between sectors, with wealth and asset managers sliding marginally backwards by contrast to banks and insurers, which increased their numbers.
Diandra Soobiah, co-chair of the 30% Club investor group, a campaign aimed at helping more women reach board level positions, said: “Low female representation across leading financial organisations is concerning and the lack of progress in improving the situation is hugely frustrating.
“While new policies and recruitment practices are welcome, more needs to be done to shake off legacy issues that have long hindered the industry from progressing on diversity.”
Gender diversity in boardroom appointments has risen more significantly, with 50 per cent of roles taken by female candidates — an 8 percentage point increase year on year.
“I think progressive financial services firms see this as a strategic priority,” said Omar Ali, financial services managing partner for Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa at EY. “There’s clearly more for the industry to do but this is demonstrable progress.”
Wiley at 100 Women in Finance said that greater support from entry level upwards could increase the percentage of women in senior leadership roles, and that efforts to attract talent from outside of companies’ current candidate pool were necessary.
Research by DBRS Morningstar last year showed just five out of 43 banks in Europe had female chief executives in 2021.
While many financial services companies have set their own diversity targets in recent years, regulators across the UK and Europe are increasing pressure across public businesses.
Since last April, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has required listed companies to disclose information about how they are performing against targets that include having 40 per cent female representation on their boards.
From July 2026, large listed companies across the EU will have to ensure that women make up 40 per cent of non-executive boards and 33 per cent of all board members. Failure to meet the requirements could lead to a board being annulled. Several EU member states, including Germany, Italy and Spain, already have such requirements in place.
Campaigners are also calling for a greater focus on other forms of diversity, including ethnicity. A review released in December by the FCA concluded that a lack of data was stopping companies from setting specific targets for under-represented minorities.
“One way to achieve [change] is to take the success of mandatory gender pay gap reporting and apply it to ethnicity data,” said Noreen Biddle Shah, founder of Reboot, which promotes greater ethnic diversity in financial services.
Just 13 FTSE 100 companies report ethnicity pay gaps, she added, of which only 3 are financial services firms.
Letter in response to this article:
Europe’s gender pay gap is proving stubborn obstacle/From Tanja Albers, Partner, Major, Lindsey & Africa, Amsterdam, The Netherlands