Progress in Women in Securitization, but too much marketing and a missed opportunity
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Progress in Women in Securitization, but too much marketing and a missed opportunity

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If 2018 is supposed to be the year of greater awareness of women's obstacles in the workplace, nobody sent the memo to Wall Street, which is still struggling with retaining female talent and has yet to address the gender wage gap meaningfully.

Looking to bring a new perspective to an age old discussion, Women in Securitization (WiS) — an initiative within the Structured Finance Industry Group meant to promote women in structured finance —included a millennial-aged female finance executive on its panel.

The panel discussed gender diversity in the workplace at last week’s SFIG conference in Las Vegas — and, in a big step forwards from last year's event, included some actual women.

The millennial panellist said the industry ought to grow a supportive culture where workers can have their concerns taken seriously and acted upon. She also said that seeing more older women in leadership roles would help, so younger women “can see what they might become in the future”.

One of the older panellists acknowledged that women often struggle with the lack of confidence, causing them to undervalue themselves in the workforce – a factor that has held them back from higher pay and promotions.

But what could have become an instructive conversation was ultimately derailed by PR puffery about the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue, the well-publicised marketing win for State Street Global Advisors depicting a girl staring down the Wall Street’s famous Charging Bull.

Instead of taking the opportunity of the #MeToo movement to deal with the difficult issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, the panel opted instead for a token nod at a glaring issue in finance.

What the financial services industry should not be doing is following Hollywood, which has sadly converted the momentum of the Me Too movement into what The New Yorker describes as “digestible branding exercises”.

The ‘Fearless Girl’ statue may have garnered over a billion Twitter impressions and thousands of selfies on Instagram, but no amount of marketing will hide the fact that the firm which installed it was subsequently fined $5m for underpaying over 300 female executives.

So long as the industry treats these discussions as token attempts at addressing a real issue, underrepresenting and underpaying women in the workplace will continue to plague financial services at the expense of not just its female executives, but also the companies that continue to perpetuate these problems. 

Cultivating gender diversity does in fact translate into financial gain – according to a 2016 Ernst and Young study, a 30% female representation on boards could increase company net profits by 6%.

A 2017 study by the World Economic Forum reveals a more sobering statistic.  Based on current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in exactly 100 years across the 106 countries covered since the inception of the report, compared with 83 years in 2016. 

The report also indicated that the most challenging gender gaps remain in the economic and health spheres. Given this trend of widening inequality, it will now take another 217 years to close the pay gap.

If the structured finance industry truly wants to initiate change — and ultimately reap the benefits of increased diversity — it needs to begin by actually addressing the issues sincerely, instead of using discussions as a platform for marketing and self-congratulations.

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