Last Friday we celebrated International Women’s Day, which provides a terrific opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come towards an equal and fair society, but also how far we have to go.
I appreciate that some may disregard an Oxbridge-educated, white, male Conservative politician talking about gender equality.
But it is beholden on all of us, whatever our gender, to stand up and be counted, and to make our voice heard when we see injustice.
Gender equality is not just a moral imperative, it’s also better for employees and better for business. As the government minister responsible for financial services, both the moral and the business case has become too compelling to ignore.
In 2016, Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the then-boss of Virgin Money, published the results of a review that shone a light on the gender disparity in the financial sector, revealing that women made up only 14 per cent of executive committees.
In response, the Treasury launched the Women in Finance Charter, which asks firms to commit to do more for the thousands of women working in finance.
To date, over 300 organisations have signed up, from global banks to credit unions, the largest insurance companies to the smallest start-ups.
Last year, we saw a three per cent increase in women in senior management at our signatory firms, which, despite sounding small, is significant progress in only 12 months considering the size of the industry.
On Thursday, I’ll be meeting with senior finance leaders to mark the Charter’s two-year anniversary, and see what further progress they’ve made.
Without the committed women and men championing this agenda at every level in their organisations, we would not have seen the progress we have.
But if progress slows, I’ll be clear with those at the top that the government can and will take further action. We need to keep up the momentum and challenge ourselves to continue to make progress.
I believe the next step for the sector is to reach a wider pool of talent. Diversity is increasingly cited as a way to avoid groupthink, which can have
serious consequences for a firm’s bottom line. But to get real diversity of thought, we need to consider how we’re giving all women the opportunity to succeed.
When firms are developing their strategies to support women’s progression, I would encourage them to consider how they are supporting women of colour, disabled women and women from different social backgrounds. Different women will face different barriers in their career, so there is no single solution.
I also believe that women shouldn’t have to bear the burden of creating a fairer society alone. Words are not enough to buck decades of indifference: we need deeds.
It’s evident to me that we all need to do our bit, which is why I’ve encouraged men to step up and promote gender equality. I’ll continue to do my part, and I hope other men step up too.