Equity and Opportunity

Women in finance feel overlooked for ‘mediocre’ male co-workers, UK study finds

Key Points
  • Women in Banking and Finance produced the report, which included a study of 79 women in the financial and professional services sectors.
  • Some 44 of the women in the study were interviewed.
  • Some said they felt that their "high performance was more regularly discounted as compared to men."
Klaus Vedfelt

LONDON — A U.K. study of women's experiences in the financial and professional services sectors found that many felt they were held to higher performance standards versus "mediocre" male co-workers. 

The study, which gathered the views and experiences of 79 women working in finance and professional services, was carried out by Grace Lordan, director of the Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics. 

It was produced by not-for-profit Women in Banking and Finance, sponsored by major financial firms including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and BlackRock, and was published Wednesday. 

Some 44 of the women in the study were interviewed, including some who said they felt that their "high performance was more regularly discounted as compared to men." 

Other women said they felt they were treated differently when making mistakes. 

Many believed they were either labeled "competent or incompetent in their ability," yet there was a "much bigger distribution of perceived ability among their male colleagues, with 'mediocre' men being mentioned explicitly by 22 women." 

The women interviewed attributed this to a number of factors, including men being part of a "social club where other members are gatekeepers with power."

Of the women interviewed, 11 were Black. WIBF said in the report that Black women were "strategically over-sampled given they are the group whose progression in the sector is notably slow and cannot be explained away." 

WIBF also said that "what was striking about the conversations was that the headwinds and tailwinds they faced were not different to the remaining 33 women." 

"Rather the headwinds were more intense and the tailwinds fewer," the report added. 

Some of the Black women interviewed also highlighted this theme of "mediocre" male co-workers, with some saying that they felt as if they had to perform better than both men and white women "by a specific margin to get the same recognition." 

More broadly, some of the women interviewed also felt they had to be innovative to succeed, while men were "often welcomed on traditional career pathways." 

The women surveyed also spoke of encountering managers who talked about caring about equality but that their "walk didn't match the talk," indicating a lack of authenticity. 

Indeed, a separate report by Women on Boards U.K., also released on Wednesday, found that 37% of the 261 small companies listed in the U.K. below the FTSE 350 had one or no female directors. 

It also found than less than half had met the U.K. target for having 33% women on boards. 

Fiona Hathorn, CEO of the network Women on Boards U.K., said the findings showed "the job is far from done" on working toward diversity among the U.K.'s public companies. 

"To accelerate diversity and close the gender pay gap we must look beyond the FTSE 350 and ensure that every company in the FTSE All-Share is held accountable to change," Hathorn said.