EBAday 2019 takes a fresh look at diversity during a lunchtime debate on best practices in national and corporate work policies, culture and how to ensure that dynamic work environments work for all genders in this industry.
Sweden is leading the gender diversity challenge, with equality being one of the cornerstones of society and Teresa Connors, head of market management, payments, at NatWest moderates the panel discussion on what these policies look like and what they mean for gender diversity.
Connors illustrates the magnitude of the problem by referring to UNICEF data, revealing that two-thirds of the world’s children (90 million), live in countries without parental leave policies. Furthermore, with countries like the USA, Japan and Italy not establishing national laws guaranteeing paid parental leave, it is evident that this is a serious problem.
These countries could take a page out of Sweden’s book, which allows new parents to take up to 16 months off and although 72% of mothers use the majority of the allotted time - rather than the fathers -, the speakers explore how this is not a gender issue, it is just because women want to spend time with their newborns at home, as Helena Forest, head of branch optimisation and expansion, cash management at Deutsche Bank says.
The conversation moves to women returning to work after the birth of their child. While Denmark boasts the highest maternal employment rate at 82%, Sweden, Slovenia and Austria follow close behind at 80%. Interestingly, while these figures are based on the majority of mothers returning to full-time work, more women take on part-time work in the Netherlands.
Gunilla Garpas, product portfolio manager at Swish-Nordea, explains that the biggest challenges when returning to work is not being with your child and being forced to work full time when you need to be flexible. She asserts that some companies allow parents 120 days a year so that they can work from home if their child is ill.
Forest adds that because of the expense of childcare, for some women, they are spending more than they are taking home. Sweden offers an affordable policy, which is based on your salary and has helped women return to work and feel comfortable about it.
Kamilla Asp, head of payment products at SEB, boasts a female employee rate of 46%, which she says is different to fintechs and trading companies - transaction services seem to have got it right. “When you are supported by female leaders around you, it becomes easier,” Asp says. Connors adds: “The old boys’ club is now becoming a new girls’ network.”
However, for this to happen around the world, culture needs to change. “Culture is this intangible ecosystem that you can’t quite put your hand on. It’s unique for each organisation and it depends on the bank, as one can be more hard-nosed than another,” Connors continues.
Asp says that while it is important for C-level executives to discuss equality, line managers should also be setting examples. “Good leaders and good behaviour from managers is a start. Comments can build a rough culture. It is about big talk and small talk. Individuals at the top of the company can start, but it all comes down.”
Focusing on the issue of making comments and how this impacts the way a woman thinks she must behave, Garpas states that “women should not be told they are too straightforward or bitchy. We need a mixture of personality, gender, age and ethnicity to create an atmosphere that promotes innovation. We need good and different personalities.”
Connors also mentions that in her experience, a diverse team has led to better products and services being created for customers, because the design team is made up of people who reflect the customer base they are trying to sell to. However, people will continue to make comments that undermine women, but women need to be confident enough to stand up for themselves. But how can they do this?
Forest explains that because there are so few role models for women, the strong woman, or the alpha woman is not a personality that society recognises. She continues to say that research has revealed that there are an equal number of men and women who want promotions, but unconscious bias prevents an equal number of promotions being handed out. Bias is what needs to be changed first.