The old white boy’s club must end

Simoney Kyriakou

Simoney Kyriakou

I was working before the tech boom, the demise of Enron and before stakeholder pensions. And I remember what it was like to be a female journalist in the late 1990s.

I would attend a conference, at which there would be maybe 20 women. Most of these were in PR or were newbie journalists, as was I.

Any older, successful women there would be instantly spottable in a crowd of navy pin-striped suits and there was never a queue for the ladies’ toilet.

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As for ethnic minorities - again, these were mostly young newcomers to the industry, networking with hundreds of middle-aged white men.

Things have changed. People drink sparkling water for lunch now, not 1978 merlot. Nobody smokes during Autif - sorry, Investment Management Association - dinners any more. Sometimes there is a queue for the ladies’ toilets.

Indeed, the number of female and ethnic minority professionals reaching senior positions has grown, albeit from a small starting base.

Employers have seen the value in developing their boards and executive roles and more women and minorities are being encouraged to train up and enter the financial services industry. This I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. It would be weird if my eyes and my ears were not mine. But then it is Halloween.

However, the changing dynamic of the financial services industry - especially at the upper echelons - is not changing fast enough, according to Anthony Thomson, the newly appointed chairman of the National Skills Academy for Financial Services.

At the House of Commons last night, he told an assembly of guests that the NSAFS was “committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all, and is keen to widen the diversity of the workforce and ensure it better represents the communities it serves”.

He claimed that firms are not taking advantage of the “rich pool of potential entrants” which firms “do not access through their normal recruitment channels”.

What channels are these? Surely everyone just puts a CV in and is an equal among many? Not so, says one industry insider. According to her, many senior executives still focus on ‘prestige’, especially at fund management companies.

If you have had tea with the Queen Mother, own a farm, have served with the British Forces, have a father, uncle or brother already in the industry and have gone to one of the top five universities, you automatically have a door open to you.

In other words, if you are the son of a middle-class white man with land, a Barbour jacket and a black labrador called Ollie, you are very likely to jump the queue of equally talented candidates.

This is not to disparage the top universities - I am a product of one myself - or to say employers should not use their social contacts to get good recruits.

But when there is a pool of highly employable young men and women from all sorts of cultural backgrounds, employers could and should do more to make their company one that enhances its skill set, rather than keep it in a narrow field.