United Kingdom

Talented women left behind as 'mediocre' men take the top finance jobs

Finance is still a male-dominated profession that lets 'mediocre' men rise to the top, research has found.

A study says male middle managers hold women back as they are more adept at internal politics, and have a tendency to fake empathy when managing women, recognising that the trait was now seen as valuable.

As a result talented women are left behind by the City's deeply entrenched, male culture, says the London School of Economics (LSE) and non-profit group Women In Banking and Finance who did the research.

Bucking the trend: Natwest boss Alison Rose, left, and Debbie Crosbie, chief executive of TSB Bank (right) serve as shining examples of women who have made it to the top

Women feel they are given less leeway to fail than men and that they have to consistently perform at their best to progress. 

Men had far more room to make mistakes or be average, the study found. Women also felt bosses were far less likely to fight to keep them if offered another job.

And, in a blow to campaigners and numerous equality drives, women still feel taking maternity leave holds careers back. For black women the research was more concerning: they felt they had to outperform men and white women.

It shows the City still has much further to go to improve opportunities for women, despite years of drives to get more women onto FTSE 350 boards.

There are some shining examples of those at the top, including Debbie Crosbie, chief executive of TSB Bank, and Alison Rose, boss at Natwest. 

The challenges women face in finance have also been highlighted by sexism and bullying scandals such as the one at insurance hub Lloyd's of London in 2019. 

One in ten workers told a survey they had seen sexual harassment at Lloyd's in the last 12 months.

Grace Lordan, an LSE associate professor and founding director of The Inclusion Initiative, said women tended to be excluded or not given opportunities, as men tended to help people more like them. 

She said the women surveyed felt it was 'much more likely to be average men who ended up being the gatekeepers for the younger women who were coming through'.

Campaign group Women on Boards UK revealed fewer than half of the 260 smaller companies on the London Stock Exchange have a third of board roles occupied by women.

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