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What two financial services bodies are doing to tackle inequality

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 26 Feb 2020

What are the main causes of inequality and what are firms doing to tackle it? Brian Cantwell writes.

The World Economic Forum and City body The Future Skills Taskforce have identified three inequalities in the workforce that negatively affect the skills landscape:

  • gender imbalance;
  • the “network gap” – who you know; and
  • regional and geographical location.

While most financial services firms strive for meritocracy driven performance, women still find themselves marginalised through unequal salary remuneration. And because of the rapid pace of roles changing many women face being locked out of work after a career break, thereby depriving the workplace of their skillset.

Unfortunately, the who-you-know issue has diluted access to the best schools, universities and careers in the UK for generations. Inherited privilege often means a higher chance of success and over time this has contributed to a distortion in opportunity across the UK. And, although most financial service jobs sit outside the capital, London continues to attract large numbers of highly skilled workers, adding to the ‘brain-drain’ effect seen across the rest of the country.

This means lower skilled opportunities distributed across provincial cities and the degradation of regional access and opportunities. Workplaces suffer a lack of diversity as a result, and the soft-skill pool continues to narrow.

The Future Skills Taskforce have suggested five key areas for improvement for firms when tackling inequality in the workplace.

  1. Create an inclusive culture.
  2. Support career development.
  3. Progression for part-time workers.
  4. Improve internal recruitment and promotion processes.
  5. Measure and evaluate policies to support diversity and inclusion.

As an example of some of those policies in action, the Association of British Insurers commissioned their own report into the gender pay-gap in 2018, called “Tackling the seniority pay gap”. Its research revealed that the dominant driver for the gender seniority gap was the “motherhood penalty”, with many women often returning to part-time roles, and without the opportunity to progress in their careers. The report suggested that the ABI create an industry job-share portal, which it will create based on the civil service portal. It will be the first commercial sector to do so.

The portal’s aim is to provide a profile matching service and to make senior roles available part-time; job shares easier and more attractive; and contribute to the development and advancement opportunities for women who work part-time.

Investment20/20 is a young person’s career services focused on the investment management industry. It provides trainee programmes for a broader base of young people with diverse background to access the industry. It also provides outreach and pre-employment schemes for youth from diverse backgrounds.This includes its Think Investments scheme, which put 64 socio-economically disadvantaged students from diverse background through a series of masterclasses, which included work-shadowing opportunities with industry firms. In 2020 this will also include an undergraduate scheme.

Additionally, Investment20/20 has set up an ambassador scheme which matches industry professionals with opportunities to share their knowledge with students as part of their outreach initiatives to schools, colleges and universities. It also launched a separate work-experience scheme for up to 50 sixth form students from diverse backgrounds that includes one week’s work experience and employability development.

Both these organisations have taken steps to improve the futures of current and potential future employees. While there may be capital outlay, there is return on investment in the present day by reputational boost, and a potential boon to workplace diversity in the future.

The Future Skills Taskforce makes the following three financial services sector recommendations.

  1. Sign up to public commitments – firms can sign up to publicly available pledges and commitments to drive improvement.
  2. Participate in collective action.
  3. Advocate for inclusion.

Access ICAEW’s range of financial services resources.


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