Investment management is full of "entrenched inequality" with women reporting experiences of sexual harassment, gender stereotyping, inflexible work arrangements and unequal pay in a 'boys club' work culture, a new study has revealed.
A new study from the University of Sydney’s Women, Work & Leadership Research Group, which involved 124 surveys and 20 interviews with women in investment management roles, has found that the Australian investment management sector riddled with a host of cultural and systemic gender-based issues.
While most women did feel they were treated with respect in their workplace (88 per cent), had supportive managers (80 per cent) and had sufficient flexibility (79 per cent), the study findings were mixed as many also reported negative experiences.
In particular, nearly half of the respondents (42 of 116) said a key problem was that their workplace did not support female parents and lacked “‘cultural acceptance’ of flexible work in the sector”.
“Because the sector is male-dominated, and because male parents in the sector rarely work part-time, flexible arrangements are not commonly made available to women,” the report said.
‘The male norm’
Women also attested to the experience of “daily mistreatment” in sexist views and attitudes grounded in “traditional stereotypes and social and cultural biases”.
13 per cent of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment at their workplace, which the report described as an “unacceptable proportion”.
“Participants described how men saw women who worked in investment management as inferior to men, lacking intelligence and analytical skills, only capable of performing administrative roles, and as having been promoted only to meet gender targets,” the report said.
Many respondents also reported not being taken seriously at work where their ambitions were not respected by men, meaning women needed to work harder and have higher qualifications in order to be afforded the same opportunities.
One respondent said the manifestation of sexism came in the form of “being patronised, condescended to, excluded, and treated paternally” and another reported “being spoken over, being answered for, being cut off, being abused so that you would back down”.
As a result, women felt that they had to adopt the “male ‘ideal worker’ model” of competitiveness, loudness, confidence and risk-taking and to “suppress their personalities, emotions, and femininity at work so as not to appear weak or deviate from the male norm.”
Many women also indicated they were excluded from social activities that served as informal networking events and relationship-building opportunities, leaving them feeling as though they were on “unequal footing”.
One respondent said in the report that she “felt very alone sometimes”. “Male peers do not understand how much harder it is for a female to get ahead when they organise events centred around poker, fishing and do not invite me.”
All respondents said it was important to have a supportive manager, which was “found to offset or counteract the institutional or industry-wide gender discrimination faced by women in the study and was critical to women’s career advancement”.
The boys’ club
The report found that also women felt they had been ‘passed over’ for key career opportunities.
“They described how gender bias stymied women’s advancement in organisations: it prevented women from being sponsored, being given career-advancing assignments, and getting promotions.
“They referred to the industry as a ‘boys’ club’ or an ‘old school network’ in which men hired and gave pay increases to their male friends.”
Respondents also identified the gender pay gap, and lack of transparency surrounding pay, as an existing issue.
“Almost all research interviewees described how they had received, or were currently receiving, less pay than male equivalents.
“There was a lack of transparency around remuneration in their organisations, with most having deduced that they were paid less than male equivalents through informal sources of information.”
Participating women in the study also perceived that senior males in the industry often paid ‘lip service’ to greater diversity in the sector but found this did not carry through to concrete changes, with men still recruiting in their own image.
Respondents outlined that culture change would need to come from changes both from the top and on the ground level, advocating for managers to be actively facilitating of career opportunities and equalising opportunities at the team level.
“They suggested strategies for: improving male leaders’ understanding of equal opportunity, bias, and diversity and its benefits; senior leaders visibly role-modelling and promoting cultures of respect, equality and flexibility; and establishing cultural norms of ‘calling out’ discriminatory behaviour.”
Report author Sarah Oxenbridge called the disrespectful behaviour “out of step with community standards” and Australians’ expectations of professional behaviour at workplaces.
“The research shows a very heavy and thick layer of glass at the ceiling of the investment management hierarchy.
“Women in the sector are saying loud and clear that unequal treatment must stop. They need opportunities to advance and access to flexibility if they are to stay, and thrive, in these organisations.”
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