Special Features

The challenge for women in the commercial market

‘The glass ceiling’ - It’s an age-old problem relating to issues faced by women trying to progress.

Sarah Prescott | YBS Commercial Mortgages
3rd March 2022
Sarah Prescott YBS Commercial
"One thing that stands out is the question surrounding gender diversity in the industry and how things have (or in some cases – have not) progressed over the last few decades."

But what does gender diversity look like in the commercial market, what are the concerns, and what might the future look like?

I’ve worked in commercial finance for a long time. And I’ve seen a lot of change. One thing that stands out is the question surrounding gender diversity in the industry and how things have (or in some cases – have not) progressed over the last few decades. And as March brings International Women’s Day, it feels like a good time to turn our attention to it.

When I began my career, I was working at a branch. By the time I progressed to my current role – regional lead at YBS Commercial - I was one of the few women at a senior level. And this can carry its challenges. For example, incorrect assumptions may be made about experience or position by others. Indeed, the theme this year for International Women’s Day is #breakthebias to raise awareness on how bias can be a potential barrier to career progression.

This can be overcome by building trust, demonstrating knowledge and adding value. But this doesn’t really solve the overarching problem.

Looking at the issue

I’m still the only one at my level in the business who is a woman.

And it’s difficult to work out why that’s the case when you work for an inclusive employer. Even when there is a good gender split across teams, this doesn’t necessarily apply at the higher levels. And this seems to be true across the industry.

So, what’s going on here? We often hear that in some cases women aren’t choosing to go further in their careers - how true is that?

It’s possible, but it’s perhaps more complex than that. It’s difficult to get away from the challenges of being a working mum, which are well recognised across all sectors and acknowledge the juggling act mothers face to ‘have it all’. And it’s not just mothers who struggle to have it all – modern life carries similar challenges for many people.

That said, with the right forward-facing employer, it is possible to have flexible-working and be trusted to get the job done without the fear of clock-watching. This approach also makes it easier to progress with the knowledge that you have flexibility to do your job and still be there for personal commitments like childcare or looking after an elderly relative. However, the key here is that not all employers are equal when it comes to flexibility and work-life balance, which could mean some women are disinclined to move up the career ladder. Perhaps as a society, we still have some way to go here, although the pandemic certainly moved things on in this regard.

However, there has also been a negative side-effect to the flexibility brought by the pandemic, as the lines have become blurred. For many of those working from home, there has been no difference between work and home – making it tempting to check emails at 9pm, as the ability exists to access everything at all times. So, whilst this may have helped to solve some of the problems, it also created a different kind of dilemma – and not just for women.

The commercial challenge

Looking at this with the commercial sector in mind – there are other obstacles.

The industry feels very male-dominated – and whilst we can’t control this to some extent, I question whether enough is being done to attract more women to the commercial market and to help them move up the ladder. Statistics show that women now comprise 43% of the workforce in financial services , but this figure isn’t reflected at higher levels.

There are some harsh truths in the labour market historically, but there’s every chance this can change if we help make it happen, and the more these challenges are talked about, the more likely we’ll see progress.

A sense-check

For balance, we also need to look at the positives. At YBS Commercial, recruitment in our roles across the business now has a 50:50 gender split – this is a definite improvement on where we were 10 years ago.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that the person recruited for any job - at any level - should always be the best person for the job, regardless of gender. Women should always expect to be recruited or promoted based on having the right skills and being the most capable person. The challenge may be their journey to reach that point.

The future

There’s no doubt that things are changing in this space – even though we still have some way to go. Attitudes are also shifting as the younger generations come through.

But to really embrace gender equality in the future, employers need to give women the flexibility to fulfil and grow in their roles without feeling like they have to make a choice, and help to provide them with access to those roles in the first place.

This, I think, is the real key to shattering the glass ceiling we hear so much about.

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