Addressing gender imbalance in Finance
This month, HM Treasury announced that a further 26 financial firms have signed up to the Women in Finance Charter, a commitment to improve the representation of women in senior roles within the sector. Although this marks an important step in addressing the issue of gender imbalance across financial services, one could argue that more also needs to be done at grass-roots level.
This is not to say that if we want more girls to consider careers in Finance, we simply need to get them interested in Maths. Getting them interested in Maths is a great start – it is one of our most popular subjects at Blackheath High, but for women to truly succeed in the City they also need to develop resilience, tenacity and networking skills.
It therefore seems apt that this week sees the launch of Blackheath High’s ‘Women in Finance’ event, part of a series of careers events at the school designed to encourage girls to broaden their horizons and be savvy about the broad range of skills they can develop at school that will set them up for future careers. These are designed for girls at secondary age.
Girls and parents will be able to hear from, and network with women in a whole range of finance and City careers and interests. There are representatives at executive director level, all the way to those just embarking on their undergraduate studies in Finance at university. In my experience, there is nothing more powerful for students than seeing and speaking to women actually doing the jobs we talk to the girls about. It is not enough to tell girls they can do any job, we need to show them it as well. That is why these kinds of opportunities to genuinely network and ask questions are so important for teenagers.
We are incredibly lucky at Blackheath High, to benefit from an immensely supportive extended network. Our speakers this week include parents, ex-students and alumnae from other Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) schools too. Helping our students develop vital networking skills and the confidence to speak to anyone, is integral in equipping them to take on careers in areas like Finance, that have not been seen traditionally as that female friendly.
I was fortunate enough to hear Sandie Okoro, global lead lawyer for HSBC Asset Management and ex-GDST girl, speak at the GDST Annual Conference in 2015. She argued very persuasively, that a job in a sports shop or supermarket helps youngsters develop resilience and pick up valuable skills that will help them in the workplace for life. She made the point that in a world where much is organised for youngsters (you can buy a whole gap year experience from a company nowadays), that the skills learnt from earning a wage and fitting into a workplace are actually immensely more valuable for young people looking to develop real employment skills, as well as achieving their academic credentials.
The breadth of curriculum that good schools provide, through a vibrant co-curricular programme, does provide ample opportunity for developing grit and resilience (nothing like running a cross-country race through mud and race to test your determination) but what young people choose to do outside of school is equally important. Interacting and working with people from different walks of life, adapting to a workplace environment, and thinking outside the bubble of school will make the experience of moving into employment, particularly Finance, all the more successful and enjoyable.