How women can thrive in a male-dominated industry
With a successful career in finance under her belt, Mia Drennan offers advice on the best way to progress in sectors where men are overrepresented
It is safe to say that men still rule the roost in the finance industry. Although women are well-represented across the entire industry, the balance is not reflected in higher levels of management. Indeed, Equileap’s Gender Equality Global Report & Ranking 2020 study, published in March, revealed that women represent 50 per cent of the global finance workforce, but only an average of 26 per cent are represented on the board of directors, 18 per cent on the executive team and 28 per cent in senior management.
Even with all the advances we have seen in equality and diversity in the past decade, it is still harder for women in finance to get to the top than it is for men.
There have been moments in my own business journey when I’ve not been addressed in meetings because it’s been assumed I am part of the admin team. Even in my own offices when I’ve offered a client or guest a coffee before introducing myself, I’ve noticed occasional looks of surprise when I reveal my role. It’s these types of assumptions and microaggressions that hold women back in the workplace. However, there are some rules you can follow:
Be aware of workplace politics
Early in my finance career I was naïve enough to believe that success and reward were always based on merit, and that if you did a good job you would be rewarded and promoted. I didn’t understand the world of workplace politics, which is an unfortunate part of work but a near ubiquitous one. Men are particularly good at playing the game, so women should enter roles with their eyes open and understand how to navigate the specific politics of their workplace. The organisation I now run is all about meritocracy, but unfortunately in finance that is rare.
When I left the bank I worked for in 2005 to start my first business, people questioned the decision. However, I knew I would not be unemployable if the business failed. For me, failure was not scary – I always had faith I would find work whatever the outcome. It’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. And if the risk doesn’t work, failure provides an opportunity to learn.
Develop the confidence to pursue promotions and greater responsibility
Be hungry and ask for opportunities. Take every opportunity you are given, and if you are not given any opportunities go and find them. Put your hand up and make sure you get credit for your successes.
Networking is part of the game and it helps if you make a lasting impression, in the right way. Develop your personality and your personal brand. I’m slightly unusual and have an unusual name, and this has always helped me stand out when networking because, fortunately some would say, there aren’t too many people like me knocking about the City.
Know your worth
Performing your own honest personal SWOT analysis can pay dividends. Play to your strengths.
Develop a support structure with other women
This can help within the office and within the industry. There are several ‘women in business’ groups worth joining that help members find their way in organisations. If you can, find a mentor.
Don’t be intimidated
Don’t be intimidated, particularly by male banter, and call out insults masquerading as jokes. If you find something offensive, voice your concerns. If you feel you are being devalued or stereotyped, hopefully you are in an organisation that provides the right kind of support – if not find someone you can trust to talk about it with.
Mia Drennan is co-founder and group president of GLAS