International Women’s Day 2019 – is the Finance sector still a ‘man’s world’?

The information provided in this article was accurate at the time of publishing and should be read in the context of the date it was published. Views in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the view of Scottish Friendly.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter. On March 8th, and throughout 2019, people and organisations across the globe are celebrating and aiming for gender equality in our working lives. It would be ignorant to not acknowledge that we have seen the gender gap improve over recent years. Loads of companies, individuals and initiatives have worked hard to address this and we’ve certainly seen a big shift in our industry. But our female leaders have rightly highlighted that work needs to be done both in, and out of, the office for gender inequality to be appropriately addressed.

We caught up with a few of the female leaders here at Scottish Friendly, to see what their views were on gender equality in their worlds. It was instantly apparent that ‘balance’ means different things to all of us. Lorna Lyon (Actuarial and Investment Manager, Scottish Friendly) very rightly cited that:

‘You can’t shoehorn the population in to nice little boxes based on one person’s perspective of balance.’

‘Balance’ can mean something entirely different to each of us, but it seems to be a common belief that women should be equally recognised for their work, regardless of gender.

Over the past few years we’ve seen more and more in the media about a government-backed review aimed at achieving 33% female representation on boards and in leadership positions in leading companies listed on the UK stockmarket. Last year, the stats showed they were on track to hit this voluntary-led target with 30% of females in such positions – a huge shift from 12.5% in 2011 and, even more so, from 1999 when female directorship sat at below 6% for UK listed 100 firms (Hampton Alexander Review Report, Nov 18). But is there not something somewhat alarming that we need a ‘government-backed review’ to achieve gender equality? Susan Barclay (Partnership Manager) states:

“[creating] jobs for women for ‘women’s sake’ doesn’t necessarily help the cause!”

I’m sure we’d all be in agreement that a job should be awarded to the best-fit candidate, regardless of gender.

It’s an interesting debate no matter what perception of ‘gender-balance’ you may have. At Scottish Friendly, we’re proud that we embrace the strengths and experiences that female executives bring to the table (and our board!). Just two years ago it was reported that 46 percent of finance employees were female – making it look like there was no gender gap at all. But in fact, only 15% of female employees sat at executive level.  When you look at statistics like these, the gender imbalance, or if we were to be more specific, the gender-imbalance in ‘leadership’, becomes truly palpable (Forbes, 2018).

But what’s it really like for females in financial leadership positions? Is the industry tougher-than-the-norm for women? It’s true that the financial sector has historically been very much a man’s world.

“I mean look at Wall Street? The first female to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange wasn’t until 1967.” Lynn McClelland (Marketing Manager, Scottish Friendly)

Our female leadership admit that they haven’t found it to be any tougher than you’d generally expect – although Lynn and Susan did point out that with their marketing communications backgrounds the gender-bias can tend to lean towards females – if any at all. Looking cross-departmental, Lorna in Actuarial mentioned that business can

“no longer be done on the golf course” and not everyone can be “expected to travel at the drop of a hat”

And this has been, and still is, an expectation in many organisations, but it’s important to reiterate that each of our circumstances, responsibilities and dependents differ – regardless of our gender. For example, Lynn explained that her husband tends to their children more mid-week than she’s able to, due to work. This is not a negative, it’s a positive societal change where men and women are becoming equally ‘hands-on’ at home – with modern life meaning we’re moving further away from the traditional mentality that the husband is the breadwinner and the wife stays home to tend to the needs of the family.

We also wanted to ask the ladies what they thought the biggest barrier was for women trying to succeed in leadership positions. Lynn assertively summed it up as:

“Self doubt. We need to help embrace young females and encourage them.”

It’s a thought arguably agreed by many, we often condemn ourselves to stereotypes, but we all have the power to break away from them, male or female. And it’s something we definitely have done at Scottish Friendly and we hope to see many more continue to do the same.

To close, we wondered what occupation the ladies aspired to when they were younger.

We asked them ‘What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?’

Lynn fancied herself as a paramedic.
Susan said she’ll update us when she has grown up!
Lorna wanted to be an astronaut and was obsessed with planets – she wanted to travel the solar system!

Unfortunately Lorna is yet to travel to space (there’s still time!), but it’s fair to say that all three of our participating female leaders have, and continue, to make truly valuable contributions to Scottish Friendly’s success. Thank you, ladies!

There’s heaps of events going on, you can search events in your area and even promote your own on the official IWD site here.


No advice has been provided by Scottish Friendly. If you are in any doubt as to whether a savings or investment plan is suitable for you, you should contact a financial adviser for advice. If you do not have a financial adviser, you can get details of local financial advisers by visiting Advisers may charge for providing such advice and should confirm any cost beforehand.