How MPs’ report into women in finance could lead to better banks

In the wake of gender pay gap reporting showing men are employed on an hourly rate averaging an appalling 35 per cent more than what women typically receive, and an even worse 52 per cent when it comes to bonuses, MPs have called for the City to act on its ‘alpha male’ culture and prioritise flexible working over the destructive presenteeism that persists at many institutions.

A Treasury Committee report, published today, urges the establishment of clear criteria to assess bonuses in the hopes that this might serve to negate the negotiation advantage male bankers appear to have. 

It also wants finance firms to remove the stigma of flexible working through senior men leading by example, and for them to publish strategies for closing gender pay gaps. 

Finance houses, it says, should re-examine recruitment and promotion policies to eliminate unconscious bias. This could serve to encourage more female applicants and cut down on group think among recruitment panels. 

“Culture,” it says, “is the overwhelming reason that women said they do not want to get involved at the senior levels of the financial services sector, which becomes a self-reinforcing barrier. 

“The alpha-male culture in some organisations is evident in bonus negotiations, where it’s perceived that men argue more forcefully for bonuses than women. This can result in higher rewards for men, and acts as a deterrent for women.”

Now, this is not simply an example of what certain trolls might refer to as “PC thinking” or an attempt by the Treasury Committee to appear fluffy. I’ve repeatedly pointed out that an exhaustive study by management consultant McKinsey found that firms with greater diversity are more profitable. And aren’t profits supposed to be at the forefront of banks’ minds?

But a more female friendly City, one stripped of some of its more antediluvian practices, might also serve to attract bright and talented men who would otherwise be put off by the City’s culture. 

I’m thinking here about the sort of men who might be inclined to behave a bit better than some of those who’ve thrived in the current culture but landed their employers with big penalties and trashed their reputations. 

The presenteeism, where exhausted staff are chained to their desks for hours on end, that puts off women and many men, can’t be good for banks’ clients either. Is the advice given by someone who has spent 72 hours on shift – like the one that an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch died after enduring a few years ago – really going to be sound?

The committee’s recommendations, if taken up, could result in more women, more of the right sort of men, better, more ethical, and even more profitable banks. 

Whether banks will do that is an open question. They’re mostly run by fiendishly clever men. Men who aren’t always very smart.

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