How to close wealth management's gender-based applicant gap

Katie Royals, 08/07/2021

How to attract more female talent into the wealth management industry is a much-discussed topic. But, despite their efforts, many firms are still struggling to achieve gender balance in job applications.

In a recent interview with thewealthnet Brooks Macdonald revealed they receive 6.9 applications from men for every one application from a woman.

Close Brothers Asset Management said 37 percent of job applicants are female. Investec had a similar percentage, though across the firm’s banking and wealth divisions, about 33 percent of applicants are female.

These figures reflect what Billy Stephenson, managing director of Stephenson Executive Search, is seeing.

His firm has been conducting research on gender and of the candidates the firm has seen in the past year, 40 percent were women. Mr Stephenson said when researching a sample of 1,500 candidates who are either private bankers or wealth managers, 29 percent were women.

Billy Stephenson, managing director of Stephenson Executive Search

However, Melanie Punch, head of UK careers at Investec, noted that the women who do apply tend to fare better than their male counterparts.

Within wealth and investment, a higher percentage of female applicants convert to interview – 8.6 percent of men compared with 10.2 percent of women.

This is also true when it comes to interviewees being made offers: 17.2 percent of female interviews convert to an offer compared with 14.8 percent of male interviews.

“This proves that when we can find them, we can convert them,” Ms Punch said.

Like many firms, Investec is actively trying to attract more female applicants.

Role modelling and messaging from the top is key. Barbara-Ann King joined Investec Wealth and Investment as chief commercial officer in October 2020 and is a vocal advocate of diversity.

Having a diversity champion in such a prominent role “makes such a difference” and ensures diversity and inclusion is a key priority for the firm.

“You can have all the ideas in the world, but you need people to execute them and back you up,” Ms Punch acknowledged.

Barbara-Ann King took the CCO role at Investec W&I in 2020

The firm holds sessions with senior female hires once they have settled into their new roles to see how they found the recruitment process and discuss potential changes that could be made.

Investec has also made changes to its recruitment process.

For job adverts, the firm uses software that scores each advert on its use of inclusive language and accessibility.

Investec also no longer asks applicants for their previous salary. The firm does still ask for salary expectations, but has found this opens up more of a conversation. Previously, some potential applicants had been put off or felt uncomfortable about declaring their current salary.

The firm has also put a statement at the start of its job adverts encouraging people to apply “if the role excites [them]”. This is to stop candidates being put off if they do not quite meet one part of the criteria or if they are not sure they’re experienced enough.

Mr Stephenson believes job adverts are only one part of the problem.

“Top female candidates are quite rightly selective about the firms they join – would a top client join a bank after seeing an advertisement? No, they need someone to build a relationship with them and gain their trust. This is exactly what we do in order to make sure we have relationships with the top candidates.

“One of the most frequent questions I get asked by female candidates is ‘what is the culture of the firm like?’.

“If a company doesn’t place an emphasis on developing female talent, the chances that they’re going to attract the best candidates are very low.”

Ms Punch said Investec’s initiatives have led to progress: “[Investec] is day to night compared to where we were three years ago.”

In 2019, just 19 percent of upper quartile jobs (salaries over around £75,000) went to women. In 2020, this increased marginally to 24 percent, although hiring was disrupted due to Covid-19. So far this year 56 percent – or five out of nine senior hires – have been female.

“This is such a huge shift,” Ms Punch said.

 There’s still progress to be made, but as an industry, “I think we’re catching up”, Ms Punch concluded.