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Tackling the macho culture in the financial services industry

Another issue is the recruitment of women into roles in financial services in the first place. Ms Gadhia said: "At Virgin Money we always make sure we have 50/50 list of potential [candidates] to choose from. When I'm making a choice we have a gender balance to choose from, and that helps hugely.

"But [hiring more women] is not just about doing the right thing; it's about creating the right business and achieving better returns.

"Financial services is the worst industry for women progressing beyond middle-management ranks. Only 14 per cent of people that are beyond the ranks of middle manager in financial services are women. We need to do something about it."

Both women cited the Women in Finance charter, which commits signatory firms to ensuring the progression of women in financial services, and which had a lot of support from Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. This drew attention from the 'great and the good' of the City at the launch of HM Treasury's review into women in finance.

Ms McGrath said: "One of the things that can and should be done is having a great understanding about having flexibility in life. It's not just about women, but people have other priorities in life other than work." Distance working has helped, she said. "It's starting to make work more successful and more supportive."

Ms Gadhia also talked about the advantages of developments in technology: "You have to respect that people will do the right thing – you have to assume that 98 per cent of everybody will do it in exactly the right way, and not create rules for the 2 per cent who don't.

"We have a family party in the US in July. The day before it's a board meeting. I said to my husband and daughter, 'I'll have to go to it', but then I thought, 'I'll go [to the party] on Thursday and ring in'. It makes me feel so good about it, it will release other people to do that – I was thinking I was letting other people do that. You can do your job and do your life as well."

Ms McGrath said: "When you're trying to get from where you are to where you want to be you have to take some overt steps. How overt would you encourage organisations to be?"

Melanie Tringham is features editor at Financial Adviser