What can the financial industry do for women?

Throughout her career, Ivana Gažić has held managerial positions in leading Croatian financial institutions and companies. She is a certified investment advisor, certified court expert witness and lecturer at several academic institutions. For the past 11 years, she has served as President of the Zagreb Stock Exchange Management Board and has been one of the few women to head a listed company. In her work and public appearances, she seeks to advocate the importance of creating equal opportunities for women, especially in industries traditionally perceived as ‘male’, such as finance and banking.

The financial industry has a traditionally low representation of women in senior positions. Despite the fact that the majority of bank employees are in fact female, attending any financial industry event will make it clear that the decision-making in this sector is dominated by men.

It is interesting to look at the influence of women on the economy. Two thirds of global household spending is based on decisions made by women. Women hold 40% of total global wealth, with the share continuously growing. More than 50% of women using financial products are dissatisfied with the male-to-female ratio of the financial institutions they are customers of[1].

With Croatia’s unemployment rate approaching a record low, one of the biggest problems the country’s managers are facing is finding talented employees. At the same time, female employment is below the European average, even though 55.4% of doctorate holders and as many as 64.7% of all graduates are women[2].

All these figures show that Croatia is experiencing a major structural unemployment crisis with respect to female unemployment and illustrate a systematic failure to provide women with opportunities for better positions and advancement. The employment rate among Croatian women aged 20–64 is just 60%, while the European average stands at 67% and the share in neighbouring Slovenia is at 70%.

What are the main reasons for this? Locally, there are still too few women in leadership positions to achieve the critical share needed for change because child and family care are largely woman’s responsibility and the government is not adequately responsive to the needs of employed women for organised child care.

In more than 20 years in the financial industry, I had not seen significant progress where this issue is concerned until just recently. Some of the major drivers of positive change in financial markets are investors, who are increasingly demanding sustainable business standards, including female representation in leadership positions, and regulations laying down quotas for management bodies of financial institutions to curb the tendency towards risk-taking behaviour that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

Various studies support claims that women’s full participation increases political stability, reduces the likelihood of conflict and improves GDP while, in economic terms, female representation in management bodies increases profitability and creates greater value for shareholders. Neglecting the potential of women, in a sense, means neglecting practically 50% of the working population. In January 2020, the news broke in the financial industry that Goldman Sachs, as one of the biggest investment firms, decided not to undertake the listing of companies unless they have at least one female member on their management board. Investors, who are becoming more sensitive to this issue, are calling for greater balance in the way companies are managed. This is another indicator of the extent to which the world is changing. Women do not need privileges but rather an environment that will enable them to reach their full potential, which can in turn benefit the entire community.

The pandemic has threatened to deal a further blow to the efforts made to achieve equality between men and women when it comes to careers given that[3] some 40% of women around the world work in sectors that are most affected by the coronavirus crisis, such as the services industry. Also, women have borne the greatest burden when it comes to caring for the family and the household, especially as regards home schooling and ‘invisible’ household chores.[4] Recent studies show the estimated time necessary to close the equality gap between men and women to have risen to an unbelievable 136 years[5] during the pandemic from a pre-pandemic high of 99 years. Scientists calculate that this is how long it will take before men and women can enjoy equal opportunities when it comes to their economic, health, educational and political options and influence.

Nevertheless, Croatia boasts wonderful examples of influential businesswomen and female entrepreneurs and I believe that this global health crisis will also serve to show that women are the ‘stronger’ sex when it comes to managing crisis situations, which is already supported by a number of studies.[6]

[1] Oliver Wyman, Women in financial services 2020

[2] Croatian Bureau of Statistics, Men and women, 2020

[3] https://www.oecd-forum.org/posts/what-impact-has-covid-19-had-on-women-entrepreneurs-and-what-can-governments-and-policy-makers-do-to-put-gender-equality-at-the-heart-of-global-recovery

[4] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/croatia/publication/croatian-women-and-covid-19-pandemic

[5] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/04/136-years-is-the-estimated-journey-time-to-gender-equality/

[6] https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis

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