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Why there are too few senior women in financial services

Why there are too few senior women in financial services
 Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

While the asset management industry is undergoing a period of rapid change, the dearth of female money managers remains a feature of our industry.

Ann Cairns, the north east of England-born executive vice chairman at Mastercard, says the factors that may be contributing to this issue in the world of fund management are prevalent across many other industries. 

In addition to her role at Mastercard, Cairns is global chair of the 30% club, an initiative that campaigns for female representation on boards to be at least 30 per cent.

She says progress has been made on that front, but the wider diversity challenges that remain are much more deep seated and cultural.

She says: “When we launched the 30% club, female representation on FTSE 100 boards was 10 or 11 per cent, and now it is over 40 per cent. But the issue is there are not that many female chief executives, or female chief financial officers. Even though there are more CEOs than in the past, and more CFOs.”

Cairns says part of the problem is that “relatively few women, even senior women in these companies, have jobs that come with responsibility for the profit-and-loss account".

She adds: "There is a lot of clustering in certain other positions, perhaps such as HR, but the chief executives tend to be chosen from the ranks of the finance directors and others with P&L responsibility.”

Cairns says the clustering is the result of issues that begin before women ever enter the workforce.

She says: “While there is some issue around the number of girls doing [science, technology, maths] subjects at university, the issue actually begins much earlier than that. The problem starts when girls are 12 years old, and must choose the subjects they want to study.

"There is an issue around Stem subjects not being seen as cool. At Mastercard we have a global  campaign to address this, with targets we need to hit. Quite simply, in a world of 5G and quantum computing, we need more women Stem graduates.” 

School daze 

Cairns herself is a graduate in maths and statistics. In her previous at the company  role she was responsible for all of Mastercard's activity outside the US. Now as executive vice chair she represents Mastercard around the world, focusing on  inclusion, diversity and innovation. 

Prior to her current role, Cairns worked on the team that helped to wind up Lehman Brothers' international operations when working for management consultancy company Alvarez and Marsal. 

Among the non-executive directorships she currently holds at sevral corproate firms and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 

For those who do pursue Stem subjects, the next stage where a blockage occurs, according to Cairns, is when women reach their mid-30s. She says data shows women lose thousands in pay for every child they have, which does not happen for men.

Cairns adds: “This is another point where the issue happens. In terms of management, women don’t even get on the first step of the ladder. I think equal paternity and maternity leave is one way to help address that.”