The theme for international women’s day is ‘Embrace Equity.’ Equity is recognising that we do not all share the same starting positions, so the resources required to achieve the same outcomes also differ.
For international women’s day, I’ve gathered insight from female colleagues at various stages in their careers. Women have taken on diverse roles and responsibilities in pensions, some of which are at senior, managerial or board level. Whilst the career landscape has broadened compared to the last few decades, some feel the change is not significant enough.
The pension industry has taken steps to acknowledge women working in this space. Most notably the Professional Pensions Women In Pension Awards where one of the categories is a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ awarded in recognition of rising to the top of the career ladder and inspiring future female leaders. Whilst there are many women working in pensions having an impact and inspiring others, not all are acknowledged. However, through representation at various levels, allyship and spotlighting achievements, others are encouraged to step out regardless of any perceived limitations.
A common theme amongst most of the women I spoke to was imposter syndrome; brought about from existing in a space where they are under-represented (male dominated). All felt an element of code switching was important throughout their career, for some it was perceived as important to prevent perpetrating negative stereotypes. Regardless of gender, some individuals from certain cultural backgrounds often feel a level of code switching is required not only to fit in but to progress.
Code switching is where an individual adjusts their behaviour, speech and/or appearance to assimilate to a particular environment.
Whilst there’s been a cultural shift in types of roles women would be employed in and what they were expected to wear, some participants highlighted inappropriate behaviours in their earlier careers. These included being told to use their looks to get ahead, being asked if they were planning to have children, being acknowledged more when dressed a certain way and not being put forward for opportunities for which they were qualified. Some also felt they were made to feel like a failure for choosing to change their careers, whilst others were made to feel less valued being a part time worker.
One colleague highlighted the difference in expectations for males and females were not just confined to the workplace, with disparities exist in home life too. Taking care of children, elder parents or relatives, organising weekends and holidays are roles that tend to fall on females.
The UK is known for having some of the highest childcare costs globally and some believe this has been one of the factors contributing to women leaving the workforce. According to an article published by Now Pensions in 2022, women were more likely to take leave from work of up to 10 years over the duration of their working life to start families and care for children or relatives, which had an impact on opportunities received, salary and career progression.
When factoring in time loss from not being in the workforce and the gender pay gap, women tend to have on average much lower retirement savings than men. Looking at data from 5 million pension plans in January, Aviva found between the ages of 60 and 65 pension savings for women were half the size of men. This research also highlights a significantly wider gap between the ages of 30 and 35 of 21%.
Gender roles are often seen in the workplace, but all our colleagues noted a positive increase in the number of women in senior and influential roles here at Vidett, on the trustee boards and across the wider industry.
One of the observations noted was, “Early on in my career there was a distinct divide with women working on the support roles and men in the consultant/adviser/management roles and I have seen a definite shift towards more woman in management roles and director roles and on management boards which is great and inspirational and about time!“
Others consider this as more of a tick box exercise for larger organisations in a bid to appear more gender inclusive. LinkedIn’s Gender Equity in the Workplace report looks at the representation of women in the workplace. According to the article, women hold 46% of entry level positions globally, at a senior level this drops to 35% and 25% at the top leadership level. For context, LinkedIn used anonymised profile information from 830+ million members around the world. Focusing on the UK, the figures provided in a 2022 report indicated that only 30% of management roles were held by women.
The recent Cardano and Mallowstreet report on UK Pension Trustees showed a split of 60% for people who identify themselves as men to 40% who identify as women, compared to the PLSA report in 2020 where c80% were men. On the face of it, there already appears to be a reasonable shift in female representation, but that doesn’t automatically mean there is a fair and inclusive environment for women.
Although there have been visible changes in representation at senior levels within the pension industry, and more widely in the UK workforce, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equity. As we celebrate the progress that has happened, let’s look to close the gap and create a better environment for future female leaders.