Financial services companies can create value for women and expand and strengthen gender equality in general by:

  • Developing financial products that specifically suit women’s needs
  • Introducing financial products customised to the needs of underprivileged women
  • Building support and infrastructure for female entrepreneurship

In my previous posts, I outlined the issue of gender equality in the workforce as well as its business impacts. Now I’d like to share specific steps financial services businesses and their HR teams can take to create a gender-equal business environment.

Unequal access to financial assistance is one of the key reasons for income disparity, which impacts women on a greater scale than men. There is evidence (especially from developing countries) that lack of adequate financing avenues and the means to support entrepreneurial initiatives through developing phases have led to business failures and added to poverty.

Microfinance is an effective mechanism for reducing poverty and improving women’s economic position by providing access to financial services such as credit and insurance. Many financial organisations around the world are leveraging the opportunity to support women-centric self-help groups, thereby growing revenue from previously untapped markets. It is worth noting that the global microfinance market is expected to grow between 10 and 15% in 2016.

In terms of driving a gender-equal workforce, businesses and their HR partners must develop an enabling ecosystem for women and provide them with technology access and skill development.

However, there is another subtle force at play that continues to impact women’s ability to reach parity in the workforce. There is a growing body of evidence that shows one of the factors that prevents women from progressing in the corporate world (and elsewhere) is that men are either unable or unwilling to ask for more work life balance for themselves and to take on at least an equal role in the home. This is both a social and organisational issue. To change this dynamic, organisations must be willing to encourage and support flexible work schedules for both men and women.

How HR professionals can drive gender equality

Financial services HR professionals can play a significant role in bringing about the changes that will put their companies at the top of the list in terms of developing, attracting, and retaining key female talent. These steps will also help make their companies more appealing to a customer base that is increasingly female and gender equality-motivated.

The over-arching goals of the HR function in driving gender equality should be to:

  • Support both men and women in accessing flexible work arrangements in order to give men the opportunity to play an equal role in the home
  • Focus on removing the unconscious bias that impacts the way organisations recruit, reward, and provide development and growth opportunities
  • Create an employee value proposition around achieving diversity goals
  • Meet the diversity agenda through higher female representation
  • Groom women for leadership positions, including investing in leadership training and mentoring for women
  • Partner with universities and educational programs to create structures to seed and grow women leaders
  • Create physical channels (such as innovation labs, smart devices, and technology networks) to connect women with each other
  • Empower women by promoting skill development and technology access

The importance of gender-sensitivity and flexibility

In some developed markets, the financial services salesforce is trained to recognise and respond to women clients at the point of sale. This is particularly applicable when selling to women entrepreneurs and retiree segments, as they are more likely to seek out in-person advice. One of the most important things HR professionals can do in support of gender equality in the workforce is to deeply ingrain gender sensitivity among the employee population in general, and the sales force in particular.

Despite progress towards shared family caretaking, women are still the primary caretakers in society, regardless of their other roles. In fact, the role of caretaker is often added on top of maintaining a full-time job. Employers who recognise this dynamic and build flexibility into work schedules are better able to attract and keep top female talent. These employers are also rewarded with more productive and happier female employees. When these same options are extended to males, the benefits in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction will grow exponentially. Providing infrastructure such as telepresence, video-conferencing, and other technologies that support working from home is an additional way companies and their HR teams can build flexibility into the workforce and better meet all employees’ needs.

In my next post I’ll share a few examples of how some companies are promoting gender equality within the business environment—benefiting both the companies and the women they employ.

For a more information on the issues surrounding gender equality in the workforce, please see:

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