According to figures by the Institute of Leadership & Management, the number of female employees has decreased by 3.2 per cent since 2011, compared to a 3.1 per cent reduction in the male workforce.
This bucks a general trend of the female workforce in Britain increasing by 1.5 per cent in the past two years.
David Pardey, head of research and policy for ILM, said parts of the banking sector, such as investment and retail, “do not make it easy” for women to progress into senior positions, whereas corporate banking had proved to be a more inclusive corner of the industry.
He added: “Employers who fail to ensure that they have a career development path that accommodates women’s differing needs will finish up with too few good managers from whom to select their future senior executives.”
He said that a high-profile campaign to raise the percentage of women serving on executive boards was “distracting” the industry from tackling the obstacles facing women at all levels within companies.
Mr Pardey said: “By getting a few women on boards, we are in danger of creating an illusion of equality whereas the real problem lays hidden. I would not like to describe it as tokenism, but it does not necessarily reflect a commitment to opening up the talent pipeline down through the organisation.”
Helena Morrissey, chief executive officer of Newton Investment, established the 30% Club in 2010 in a bid to bring women into the boardroom. At present the number of women in senior positions at FTSE 100 companies stands at just more than 16 per cent. Chairmen who have pledged to support the 30% Club include Sir Philip Hampton of Royal Bank of Scotland.
Ms Morrisey said: “The 30% Club is focused very much on the whole continuum; we are aiming for better gender balance at all levels of companies. The board is symbolic, measurable and enabled us all to throw a spotlight on the issue of under-representation of female talent. The 30% Club’s voluntary, business-led approach is aimed at sustainable meaningful change.”
Claire Walsh, IFA for East Sussex-based Pavilion Financial Services, said: “Women can provide a real niche in financial advice, and my gender works in my favour because it is a differentiating factor and there is not that much choice if you are looking for a female adviser. Advice is also a very family friendly job to have as you can work when you want and set your own hours.”