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How does the Perception of Fairness Impact Gender Diversity?

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new study by Treasury and Risk magazine, twice as many women as men in finance (80% versus 41%) see a glass ceiling for women in the corporate space.

This is only one of the notable divergences in views between men and women about gender in the corporate workplace. For example, the study also revealed that women are generally dissatisfied with corporate efforts to promote senior level diversity – only 43% of women would give their company’s initiatives an A or B grade, while 80% of men would.

But while it’s clear that more women see challenges to their advancement than men do, times are changing. In fact, the percentage of men who do acknowledge that there are unseen barriers to women’s advancement is increasing at a rapid rate. The percentage of men who do acknowledge a glass ceiling has increased significantly since just last year when it was only 29%.

Is it this just a statistical quirk, or does it mean times are changing for women in the industry? Either way, there is a big difference between male and females regarding the perception of fairness for women in the industry. Despite (or maybe because of) decades of work to promote diversity in finance, the majority of men do not believe there are hidden biases that prevent women from advancing as quickly as they do – and this could be a barrier in itself.

Is Finance Fair for Women?

When asked about their own opportunities for career advancement, men and women gave roughly equivalent answers, with men responding slightly more positively than women (37% of women and 36% of men replied “good,” 24% of women and 28% of men said “very good,” and 8% of women and 11% of men said “excellent”).

On the other hand, when asked specifically about the advancement of women, responses varied significantly between the genders. Only 56% of women said that finance is a great field for both men and women, compared with 87% of men. One reason for this may be a discrepancy in fairness.

For example, a full 90% of women in finance said that “lucrative pay packages are more often offered to men.” Only 45% of men said the same.

Similarly, the vast majority of women surveyed – 92.4%  – said they think women have to work harder to gain the same level of recognition as men, while only 34% of men agreed.

Eight percent of men said they believed companies were quicker to get rid of women executives when problems develop at a company. Over six times as many women (39.9%) said the same.

Perception of (Un)fairness

Most individuals who took the survey said they believed women face “harder choices and bigger sacrifices” than men, particularly around work life issues (91.1% of women compared with 62.7% of men).

But what most men don’t seem to see is the every-day challenges that make the workplace less welcoming to women – unequal pay, having to work harder, less career security. These issues come down to cultural fairness.

This perception of fairness on behalf of men – the majority of individuals in the finance industry – as well as their overall belief that diversity programs are working just fine, may be part of the reason that there are so few women at the top. Almost half of respondents to the survey (46.5%) said that women were less than five percent of top executives of their firms.

When such a large percentage of the finance workforce is unable or unwilling to acknowledge the uneven playing field that exists for female talent, it may make the climb to the top less attractive, or simply less tenable, for women. Encouraging senior men to own up to their own may help create the fairness that could enable companies to balance the gender equation for their workforce.

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