How can we ensure equality in the finance sector?

AAT has looked into the experience of working in accounting and finance and found that in areas such as pay and progression opportunities men and women view working in the sector very differently.

Surveying 2,000 people working in accounting and finance (1,000 male and 1,000 female) AAT’s research has shown that, amongst other things:

60% of women in senior management positions say they have been discriminated against at work because of their gender, almost 20% more than men in the same position (42%).

61% of men believe men and women in their organisation doing the same jobs are paid equally, but less than half of their female counterparts agree (47%).

The top three reasons people identified for unequal pay were: the fact that men have historically always been paid more (58%); that the people deciding on salaries are more likely to be men than women (32%); and the persistent ‘old boys club’ mentality (28%).

The research shows that changes still need to be made in the finance sector to help close the gaps between men and women’s experiences.

AAT wants to champion progress in this area and has some recommendations that businesses and employers of any size could benefit from implementing, to help promote equality and diversity in the workforce.

Take a look at your business

The Government has announced that companies with over 250 employees will have to report on representation of men and women at different seniority levels as part of reforms aimed at securing equality for women. While the reforms will only apply to larger organisations, employers of all sizes could still benefit from analysing what your business is doing and ensuring that you:

Analyse your pay and representation data so you can start to identify where any problems lie and tackle them head on.

Put systems in place to tackle those problems. This includes having a clear discrimination policy in place, covering gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability, to help all staff understand how to work well in a diverse organisation.

Deal with discrimination

Prevention is better than cure, but it’s also important to have processes in place for dealing with any instances of discrimination that may happen:

Make sure your employees at all levels know about your discrimination policy and receive training in how to ensure it’s adhered to.

Embrace diversity within recruitment processes. Gender differences can start from the point of recruitment when men are often bolder in negotiating terms or employees are used to people of a certain gender doing certain roles. Develop job descriptions in a gender neutral way based on competencies. You could even recruit on a name-blind basis, as many organisations are beginning to do.

Make sure employees have a range of different ways they can raise any concerns about discrimination. Options include anonymous staff surveys and regular line manager meetings. These will also benefit your employee relations more widely.

Ensure all conversations regarding suspected instances of discrimination take place with an impartial third person present and are followed up in writing, with copies kept of all correspondence.

Culture change

You can also look at your business’ culture:

Get flexible. Flexible working options are a desired benefit amongst both men and women which can help change traditional ways of working and ensure more equal opportunities, regardless of responsibilities outside of work.

Lead from the top. By leading by example, senior team members – both male and female – can show the rest of the organisation that building diverse teams, taking advantage of flexible working and championing the progression of more junior members of staff is normal.

Plan progression. Encourage collaboration between line managers and both female and male team members so progression pathways are plotted out and development plans put in place, so everyone is working to a clear goal

Buddy up. You could assign talented women mentors – both male and female – within, or external to, the organisation who can work with them to address issues, cheerlead their cause and ensure they get development opportunities to help them achieve their goals

Find out more about AAT’s research into equality in the finance sector by reading the white paper: ‘Making the finance sector add up for women’

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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