In the past, Wall Street and finance used to be an all-white “good ole boys club” akin to Mad Men. This has changed in recent years and great progress has been made. Despite this progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve in terms of parity. According to a recent report, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women.

Authority Magazine recently ran a series called “Meet The Female Leaders Of Finance.” In the series we asked dozens of prominent women leaders in finance about the improvements in gender bias, so far, and what can be done to sustain this progress. Here are 10 highlights from the series.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Kirstin Hill (Strategic Performance Executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch)

Kirstin Hill (Strategic Performance Executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch)

Why there has been more improvement in the area in recent years:

In my view, many things have triggered it. First, there’s the simple fact that representation matters. Diverse representation at all levels is imperative to long-term business success, whether it’s women, people of color or members of the LGBT community. As the gender and complexion of wealth changes, leadership needs to reflect these changes.

Financial firms are recognizing the positive impact diversity has on their companies’ performance. Firms are smarter and more effective when they include a group of diverse people. It brings in more perspectives and ideas, allowing organizations to think more creatively. Meanwhile, the absence of diversity has adverse consequences. It impedes the ability to hire, develop, grow and serve the next generation.

For us, it started as a commitment from our leadership team: Our CEO Brian Moynihan and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Head Andy Sieg. Andy specifically emphasizes how delivering across our clients’ financial lives means delivering through diversity. From the top of our organization to the hyper-local level, diversity is a non-negotiable top priority. Diversity has become pervasive in terms of how we think about what we do every day. It’s both a moral and business imperative.

Steps that can be taken by individuals, companies and society to support this change going forward:

We see it as our duty to continue the momentum toward women’s empowerment, and we all have a role to play. A key first step is ensuring women and diverse populations build the education and confidence. They need to reach their financial goals. As women grow more comfortable with their finances, they are more likely to continue exploring the finance industry and all it has to offer in the future either as members of the workforce or clients. Deeper education leads to greater representation, which results in more companies committed to women’s financial needs and advancement. These great companies then pave the way a more equitable, forward-thinking society. Here are a few steps to support this change:

  1. Learn from the generations around you. Have conversations with family and friends that destigmatize difficult money conversations. There is so much to be learned from the shared experiences that our peers, friends and family have gone through, like sending a child to college or beginning to invest.
  2. Take advantage of any employer-sponsored financial education programs. Take advantage of employer-sponsored workshops and benefits available to make the most of your financial future and navigate complex paths. According to a recent Merrill Lynch report on employee and employer financial wellness, nearly all employees who take advantage of workplace financial wellness programs say these resources have been effective. In turn, employers should offer holistic benefits that meet the needs of a diverse workforce, including personalized benefits, mentorship programs and networks, so they can set a standard they can be proud of for employee benefits offerings.
  3. Continue the conversations about financial equality. Of 1,594 pages of editorial content in the March 2018 issues of the top 17 women’s magazines, there were only five pages covering personal finance topics according to a recent Merrill Lynch study; that is less than 1 percent. This issue is even more stark when analyzing personal finance materials targeted specifically toward minority groups such as African American, LGBT+ and Hispanic/Latina women. The more accessible we make conversations about personal finance in society, the more diverse, capable and confident our collective financial future looks. Action results in change, and if action is taken to educate individuals, companies, and society, these steps can help propel us into a better, more equal future.

Tifphani White-King (US National Tax Practice Leader at Mazars USA)

Tifphani White-King (US National Tax Practice Leader at Mazars USA)

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Why there has been more improvement in this area in recent years:

Yes, I do see there has been change, but not enough. There is still significant gender imbalance with respect to senior levels of power, as well as compensation in the world of finance and beyond.

Steps that can be taken by individuals, companies and society to support this change going forward:

To correct gender imbalance, companies have to have an honest assessment of their culture, hiring and promoting practices. Some questions that need to answered include:

  1. Look at the number of new hires that interview at or enter your organization. How many of your candidates are women?
  2. Once hired, do women feel included in the culture of your company? Are they provided with the same mentorship and/or sponsorship opportunities afforded to men? Are they invited to meetings and social outings? Are they invited to compete on competitive bids and to work on highly visible, revenue-generating projects? Do they feel supported in work and life?
  3. Do women at your company support, share and promote the success of other women?

Susannah Stroud Wright (Chief Legal Officer at Credit Karma)

Susannah Stroud Wright (Chief Legal Officer at Credit Karma)

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Why there has been more improvement in this area in recent years:

I think the advent of technology has helped diminish traditional, narrow practices and ways of thinking that have for a long time plagued innovation in the finance industry. As financial services organizations grapple with new technology, regulations, and consumer expectations, hiring practices must account for a broader range of skills as a result of a more diverse pool of talent. There is substantial evidence that shows that diversity enhances company performance and that new ways of thinking are required to spur innovation, especially in the financial services sector, which arguably, has not innovated at the rate of other industries.

Credit Karma’s member base is highly diverse, which I am sure is true for many financial institutions, and a company needs diverse internal viewpoints to best serve their consumers. Financial institutions are realizing that if they want to reach as many people as possible, they must understand a wide variety of consumers and what sets their company apart from others.

Steps that can be taken by individuals, companies and society to support this change going forward:

  1. Executive accountability. Companies that have a limited number of female leadership roles can hinder internal female employee motivation. Having more females at senior-level executive roles will inspire a “get to the top” attitude and drive for entry- and mid-level female employees.
  2. Set clear goals. Adopting company-wide diversity goal metrics will help turn talk into action. Implementing a regular cadence of reporting on the gender and racial makeup of your company solidifies diversity as a business priority.
  3. Hiring. Provide educational courses and trainings on things such as unconscious bias to equip employees with best practices that prevent them from having a discriminatory effect on hiring or promotional decisions. Also, adopt diverse interview panels to help keep bias out of the hiring process
  4. Flexibility. Create programs that help both men and women balance their home and work responsibilities.
  5. Mentoring and sponsorship. Ensure that both men and women are mentoring and sponsoring women throughout their careers. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had some fantastic sponsors, some of whom are men and some of whom are women. The more men who focus on sponsoring women, the more rapidly we’ll see progress.

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