Behind the Boardroom – Where are all the Women? 


Claire O'Carolan

Analyst II

  • LinkedIn - Stacey McCann
Monday 5th March 2018

In recent years there has been a renewed focus on bringing more females into the financial services sector. Throughout the industry, financial institutions have all developed diversity initiatives aimed at increasing the amount of women in finance on the whole, as well as addressing other diversity challenges for women like the Gender Pay Gap . A key focus among firms is making the boardroom a more achievable concept for women through mentorship programs and high quality female role models. Yet, while diversity in the workplace is very much at the forefront of the finance sector currently, when you delve a little deeper, it seems that not so much progress has been made after all. 







Since the 2008 financial crash, there has been a renewed focus on culture within banks. Accusations of arrogance and excessive risk taking being at the helm of many poor decisions has taken its toll on the entire financial services industry. In an attempt to stop the same mistakes being made again there has been a renewed effort to embrace culture. The idea being that deep seated cultural differences need to be made within banking in order to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated.


A 2010 study by Vanguard highlighted the differences between male and female trends during the financial crisis, with males more likely to be reactive and trade at the wrong times. Whereas critics would claim that women are more risk averse. Suggesting that actually a more diverse group is more beneficial as it removes the worst of both traits. Gender differences appear to extend to other financial behavior. For example, women who are C.E.O.’s and company directors tend to pay a lower premium in corporate takeovers, thus saving their shareholders money, according to a 2008 study of mergers and acquisitions.[1]

 Against this backdrop, we also have rising awareness from employers in general about the importance of diversity within the workplace, and the many benefits this brings.  Studies have shown that companies that are in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns higher than their competitors. [2]. Further research has backed this up, demonstrating that the more gender diverse the company, the higher the fiscal returns. [3]


Yet interesting, it is not just the company coffers that benefit as a result of gender diversity in the workplace Studies have shown a more gender diverse business benefits from increased productivity and a more engaged workforce. Suggesting an alignment between gender diversity and employee engagement / productivity., a more engaged workforce, is a more profitable workforce. [4]


However this may not be solely down to the presence of diversity at the highest levels of the company – more likely that diversity at high level is as a result of a inclusive culture within the company itself. Indeed critics would argue that the correlation between diversity in the board room and higher profit margins is not because diverse board rooms do better, more likely that companies that do not embrace diversity do worse. 




Yet, despite the huge amount of evidence that clearly demonstrates the benefits of a more diverse workforce, and indeed management, progress has been muted. There have been some slow advances in the number of women on boards in recent years. In 2017 27.7% of board positions on the FTSE 100 were held by women, up from only 12.5% in 2011.[5] While this figure looks impressive, it took six years to achieve. Board positions are still overwhelmingly held by men in  FTSE 100 companies. The FTSE 250 figures are even lower. So, it could be said that progress is not happening quickly enough. According to the European Commission, the number of women heading up boardrooms within the EU member states has only increased by an average of 0.6% a year since 2003. [6]


Some countries have led the way with legislation to ensure that boards become more representative, the law in Norway for example says that at least 40% of a board needs to be female.  Sweden and Finland provide recommendations but do not go as far as legislation. These countries have the largest number of women on boards in the world.


So what can we do?


Clearly a more diverse workforce is a good thing. Recent studies have shown that companies with higher levels of diversity on their management boards see the benefits in their pockets. “Companies that attained at least three women on their board in 2011 saw a median change in Return on Equity (ROE) of 10 percentage points and in Earnings Per Share (EPS) of +37% by 2016, while companies with zero women on the board in 2011 saw median changes of -1 percentage point and -8% respectively over the same period.”[7]  


Interestingly, it has been shown that female only initiatives have been shown to be less effective than those that have been more inclusive on the whole. [8] Studies have demonstrated also that top down discourse on diversity is not always the best way to go. “By contrast, innovations designed to engage managers in addressing slow progress on workforce integration, through mentoring programs, diversity taskforces, and full time diversity staffers, have led to increases in diversity in the most difficult job to integrate, management”.[9]




FinTrU’s approach to diversity


FinTrU is different; we are somewhat unusual in that we are very well represented by women at senior management level. We have a burgeoning diversity umbrella, under which our Women in Finance committee has developed organically along side other diversity initiatives. We are also committed to employee wellbeing, our initiative Tru Wellness, places huge thought and consideration to the promotion and encouragement of health and wellbeing at work. While only two small examples of all that goes on at FinTrU they highlight the welcoming atmosphere, accepting and offering opportunity to everyone.  We have a renewed focus on recruiting women at grass roots levels, this means not only attracting women at various stages of their careers, also ensuring that there is a constant pipeline of young women in Northern Ireland attracted to financial services for their future careers.  A key tactic employed by the committee is School and University outreach. This allows us to engage young women before they choose their university degree, highlighting to them the importance of informing yourself of all the possible career paths open to you. We also target University students from a number of different fields of study to show them that you don’t have to have a math degree to work in Finance. Quite the opposite in fact!







1.   Mergers and Acquisitions: The Role of Gender, Levi, Li and Zhang,  2008


2.   Diversity Matters, McKinsey&Co, 2015


3.   Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey Marcus v Noland, Tyler Moran, and Barbara Kotschwar, 2016


4.The Business Benefits of Gender Diversity, 2014, Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal


5. FT -


6. European Commission, Questions and Answers: Proposal on Increasing Gender Equality in the Boardrooms of Listed Companies, 2012


7.THE TIPPING POINT: WOMEN ON BOARDS AND FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE Women on Boards Report 2016 , Meggin Thwing Eastman, Damion Rallis, Gaia Mazzucchelli, MCSI,  December 2016


8. Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth, Annis & Nesbitt, 2017


9.The Origins and Effects of Corporate Diversity Programs, Dobbins and Kalev, 2013


Claire joined FinTrU in 2016 through our third Financial Services Academy after graduating from Queens University Belfast with a BA Hons Modern History and Edgehill University with PCGE Primary Education. The academy offered the opportunity to make the transition to a career within the financial services industry following a number of years working in Education.


Since joining FinTrU, Claire has worked as a member of the Non Market Risk team for a Global Investment Bank. Claire’s key focus is in the Risk Control Group where she is responsible for compiling attestation packs globally which identify key risks and highlights the performance of different departments within the investment bank.


While at FinTrU Claire has completed all 3 modules of her investment Operations Certificate, with the CISI, studying an Introduction to Securities and Investments, UK Financial Regulation and Operational Risk.

Claire O’Carolan 

Analyst II

  • LinkedIn - Stacey McCann
  • Facebook - FinTrU
  • Twitter - FinTrU