Sibos 2015: Gender diversity, shattering the mirrortocracy

With panel moderator Lisa Oake noting that the New York Times index of CEOs of 1500 companies showed there are fewer women CEOs than CEOs named John, and with SWIFT chairman Yawar Shah saying SWIFT itself – where one board member out of 25 is a woman and 17 percent of speakers at Sibos were women – needs more diversity, panelists at the Sibos session on gender diversity focused on how to improve the situation.

Starting with a look at the issue itself, TD Securities Vice Chair Martine Irman said that even though her firm has made a concerted effort to look at the representation of women and has improved it from 20 percent to 35 percent, only 6 of 17 board members are women. In Africa, said Barclays Managing Principal Cheryl Buss, organizational structure, society and the broader community have made it difficult for women. Turning to Asia, Ernst & Young Partner Amy Ang said that although 50-60 percent of new recruits are female, only 20 percent of partners are women because females take themselves out of the equation.

One difficulty, Oake suggested, is that women may wonder if they’re cut out for leadership roles and will need to spend much time socializing. Ang said that although the perception does exist, what’s important is for women to get comfortable with their skill set and nurture the right environment rather than taking themselves out because of the perception. Buss said she has benefitted from a lot of executive support. “They’re fighting in your corner. It makes a difference.”

To get managers to recruit more women in the first place, Buss said that doing lower level training, putting diversity in KPIs, having a mixture of race and gender during interviews and building a pipeline of talent starting from the top are all important. Ang added that it is important to set a goal to have a certain percentage of females in different roles and to put diversity in partners’ KPIs. Irman added that an accounting firm calculated that excluding women cost $650 billion in the US, UK and India economies alone data.

While some people have suggested quotas for women, Buss said women don’t want to be placed in roles because they’re a quota, although unconscious bias means quotas may be needed to make sure thinking get changed. What’s more important is a cultural shift in thinking.

To help women who leave to have children, Irman said, her firm has programs to engage better when someone wants to have children and a “laundry list” for returning that includes connection, engagement and a mandate that there will be a job when the woman returns. “We’re trying to change it into a positive.”

To make the environment more comfortable for women, Ang said women can be role models and also create formal as well as informal flexible arrangements such as working from home or leaving by 6 pm and doing email at home. Work-life integration is about trying to adapt to what you need at home and at the office, she said. To a give women more confidence, Irman said her firm has created networks where men and women talk about what gets you promoted, and the firm teaches managers to engage women differently.

The most important things women can do to support gender diversity, panelists said at the conclusion of the session, are to believe in themselves, come to the table, be the model, celebrate success and lead from the top.

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