With the male-dominated financial services industry often held up as an example of gender inequality in business, Evette Orams, Managing Director of Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions, shares her experience and explores how the sector can shake its image.
The UK’s financial services industry lies at the heart of the British economy. It is our largest export, contributing around 11% of economic output and employing 7% of the UK’s working population.
Yet, despite its importance, it is also a sector where gender inequality appears to be so rife. Only 14% of senior positions are filled by women and, although it represents the highest paid sector in the UK, it also has the widest gender salary gap.
Having spent more than 23 years of my life in this industry, I’ve had my fair share of experiences – from which I could write a book – rendering these figures unsurprising to me.
However, I do believe there are mitigating factors behind them (more on those later), and I know that opportunities do exist for women who are ambitious and choose to push forward with their aims to progress.
My path into the financial services sector wasn’t exactly mapped out from a young age.
While studying at university and in need of a part-time job, I stumbled into a role at TSB Bank as a job-share PA to the Finance Director.
At the time, they were in the process of being merged with Lloyds. A few months later, my boss was made redundant as a result of the restructure, but I was lucky and was offered a future role at Lloyds TSB.
Even during those early days, I had developed the bug for financial services and was keen to continue my learning, and this coincided well with my graduation from university. So I took up a role in their collections department, and by my early 30s had experienced life at four different banks, absorbing as much information as I could whilst taking on more senior roles.
It was here that I could put my experience gained across operations, risk and sales into practice when I was approached by commercial finance broker Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions to lead and grow the team as Corporate Finance Manager.
By then, I had long moved into commercial finance – specifically the burgeoning invoice finance sector, which was most rewarding and provides cash flow support to a wide range of UK businesses.
At Hilton-Baird, I was soon promoted to Managing Director and, fast forward ten years, we have built a successful and award winning team which helps businesses to grow in line with their plans and overcome a wide range of cash flow challenges on a daily basis.
Having encountered several challenges along the way, I know that I’ve been fortunate and that my story isn’t always reflected in other women’s journeys within the finance sector.
So much so that last year, the chief executive of Virgin Money, Jayne-Anne Gadhia, was asked by HM Treasury to lead a review into why so few women seem to reach senior roles in UK financial services.
The report concluded that there is a ‘permafrost’ in the mid-tier where women do not progress or leave the sector, and that women are leaving “because the culture isn’t right”.
My experiences echo these findings to an extent. They include tales of inappropriate and sometimes hurtful comments, encouragement to use ‘sexiness’ in order to influence and motivate decisions of more senior colleagues – and even an interview for a role which, I was told many years later, was mine as soon as I walked into the room due to how I was dressed, which I hasten to add wasn’t at all inappropriate!
The thing I would stress, however, is that the proverbial glass ceiling in the financial services industry isn’t necessarily imposed by men. The sad truth is that women often question how their successful female colleagues get to where they are, while it was a female boss who told me to act sexy to get my own way. To this day I still cringe about a press release announcing one of my appointments, written by a female PR manager, which stated “in her spare time Evette is a mum”.
I think there’s also something to be said about people’s mindsets. One of the figures that came from the Virgin Money report was that only 50% of women, compared to 70% of men, believe they have an equal opportunity to advance regardless of their personal characteristics or circumstances.
My personal view is that women are raised differently in terms of expectation, which can become reality and self-perpetuating whatever the person’s beliefs, so choose to accept and go along with them. Even if you or I aren’t old enough to remember the adverts and posters of the 1950s reminding women of their supposed role in society, we’re still a part of the generation that has been brought up by those who are.
By adopting a positive attitude and developing a sense of being centred and comfortable in our own skin, however – whilst refusing to see ourselves as any type of victim – it is absolutely possible for women to progress and be successful in this sector and in any role of their choosing.
Evette Orams, Managing Director Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions