Five sectors still struggling to attract female candidates

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The task of increasing the proportion of women working the UK financial sector should not always be viewed as a single issue to be tackled across the entire industry.

Some figures make it seem as though the sector is approaching gender parity – women make up 45% employees in the UK financial and insurance industries, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

However, the number of roles and sectors within the financial sector is vast, and our own figures (encompassing 300,000 UK financial professionals registered on eFinancialCareers) suggest that there's still a lot of work to be done in some areas.

As the charts below show, women make up the majority of candidates in certain sectors – notably Investor Relations/PR and HR & Recruitment – but are hugely outnumbered in others. We take a look the five worst offending sectors.

Source: eFinancialCareers registered users

1. Trading (proportion of women: 16%)

The fact that trading tops the list of sectors where women are under-presented is hardly surprising. There's no shortage of tales about macho culture, from fist fights on the trading floor to academic studies linking testosterone to increased risk-taking and (sometimes) better performance.

A recent study by Chloe Angyal of the Princeton University sociology department on women working on the trading floor suggested that while sexual harassment was now a rarity, many female traders spoke of the need to develop a "thick skin" and mimic the behaviour of their male colleagues. One interviewee said she became a "dude in heels" when on the trading floor.

The rise of technology-led electronic trading has helped to diminish scenes of jacketed male traders shouting over buy and sells. However, it remains a sector where men still dominate.

"The aggressive alpha-male star-trader mentality that was previously embraced has been addressed to some extent by banks, and very public gender diversity initiatives have been implemented," says Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO at 20-first, a business consultancy that focuses on gender-balance issues. "However, there needs to be a fundamental culture shift within these organisations at the senior level and there are still very few managers in financial services willing or able to do this."

2. Quantitative Analytics

(proportion of women: 19%)

Our figures are actually positive when compared to other research about the proportion of female quants in the UK. P&D Quant Recruitment suggests that just 7% of quants in the City are women, compared to 8.3% globally.

To make matters worse, job satisfaction is proportionally lower among the female quant population, with most less likely to be in the 'glamour' roles of algorithmic trading, modelling and trading.

Some banks have made an effort to attract more female candidates. For example, in the US Morgan Stanley runs a women's quantitative finance mentorship programme. Sadly, though, there's no magic bullet for increasing the representation of women, suggests Dominic Connor, a partner at P&D.

"In the past, we've been employed to seek female PhD candidates studying physics or mathematical subjects within UK universities that the investment banks could potentially target, but this is a costly and time-consuming process," he says. "Banks need to target female candidates even earlier to encourage them to study more quantitative subjects at university. There's a need to present to schools, and show the sort of dynamic – and well-paid – careers available to women in the quant world."

3. Information Technology

(proportion of women: 19%)

Few sectors have been shackled with as many stereotypes as IT – traditionally viewed as the preserve of the (largely male) nerd. The reality, of course, is that the financial sector requires its technologists to have a mix of technical skills, business nous and financial product knowledge.

The sector does remain largely male-dominated, however, and the women that do gravitate towards IT roles tend to favour less technical positions like project management and business analysis.

It doesn’t help that the pipeline of talent is heavily weighted towards men. Women make up just 19% of the total number of Computer Science graduates in the UK, according to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and the number of female candidates has declined by nearly 10% since 2006.

Perhaps not surprisingly, firms are targeting potential female tech recruits earlier and several investment banks are now visiting secondary schools to encourage more girls to consider a career in financial technology, says Kuljeet Chahal, managing director of diversity focused financial services headhunters Vivacity.

"They have also arranged casual networking events at the bank where they invite groups of young girls from schools to meet with staff and encourage them to consider taking computing-related degrees and, in the longer term, a career in the industry," he says.

4. Private equity (proportion of women: 22%)

A private equity career is not conducive to a settled routine at home. The hours are long and the pressures of fund raising, turning around portfolio companies or seeking out new deals requires a lot of travel.

"The door is always open for women in private equity firms, and if we put a shortlist together for clients, female candidates tend to find more success," says Gail McManus, chief executive of Private Equity Recruitment (PER). "While women are under-represented, it's heavily skewed to the senior ranks – after VP level, the shortage becomes more pronounced."

Anecdotally, she says this often become a problem to childcare or maternity issues. Some firms are more enlightened when it comes to offering flexible working conditions, but a deal-making environment is too pressurised for many in the long term.

At the junior levels, the ratio of women to men is 1:4, suggests PER research, but just 10% of senior-ranking employees are female. Figures from Preqin, the private equity research firm, suggest the situation is improving, albeit slowly – women now fill 9.9% of senior private equity roles in Europe, it says, compared to 9.1% in 2010.

5) Commodities (proportion of women: 22%):

The commodities sector is, perhaps, a slightly random addition in the list. However, as a large proportion of these roles are trading-related, this helps explain why they're under-represented.

Elizabeth O'Kelly, research consultant at specialist headhunter Commodity Appointments, suggests that the sector has historically struggled to attract women.

"Generally women are most under-represented in commodities in both senior positions and trading roles," she says. "More women are to be found in origination, sales, credit, risk, analysis, asset management, where they do very well.  I don’t believe this is because they are overly risk-averse or not are aggressive enough, because to do well in any of these roles requires self-belief, hard work and a degree of risk taking."

Women in Finance:

Can gender diversity drives survive as the financial sector contracts?

Innovative strategies to address the gender imbalance

Q&A: Emma Murphy, advisor to the Financial Policy Committee at the Bank of England

Avoiding the mummy track: How to juggle a family with a high-powered financial career