Exodus of women could reinforce banking glass ceiling

Apr 15 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

They may still have a reputation for being bastions of male arrogance, but in fact banks on both sides of the Atlantic have made great strides in recent years in encouraging more women into senior positions.

The only problem is that, with redundancies still raging through the financial sector and more and more workers of both sexes, but especially women, re-evaluating their careers and what they want from life, the recession risks sending this progress into reverse.

With UBS today announcing it planned to cut 8,700 jobs by next year, it is clear the jobs' carnage in the City of London and on Wall Street is by no means over yet.

But, according to new research, women in particular are using the downturn and the threat of redundancy to take a long, hard look at what they want from corporate life, and often coming to the conclusion that what they want is to get out.

The research by PricewaterhouseCoopers has warned that, long term, this trend risks setting back the advancement of women within the City and make the glass ceiling harder to crack for future generations.

Its poll of more than 1,000 people found that six out of 10 believed the recession would reinforce the glass ceiling.

Nearly three quarters believed the recession would be an opportunity for women looking to exit corporate life to take redundancy as a new start.

And nearly half felt it would lead to more women moving into careers within SMEs and social enterprises.

Four out of 10 said they believed women's roles would change to become the main earner in the family unit, with one in three predicting that the role of women as the primary carer will have changed when the recession is over.

The poll, which looked at the situation now and asked for predictions of what things would be like in three years time, included workers from the UK, Europe, Americas and Australasia but was dominated by women working in the banking, finance and professional services sector in London and the south of England.

Short-term decisions regarding reductions in training, development and redundancies were likely adversely to affect women's development and progression to leadership positions in the recovering economy, the poll concluded.

Half of those polled also believed reductions in learning and development budgets would also make it harder for women to progress in the long term.

Sarah Churchman, director of diversity at PwC, said: "It's no surprise that women turn to their entrepreneurial side in a recession and see opportunities for a new start or role after years of corporate life.

"However, the by-product of the recession could be to stall or reverse the sector's gender diversity progress and investment, short changing the UK economy's recovery by removing or alienating a generation of female talent," she added.

"Banking, finance and professional services provide a valuable part of the leadership pipeline for UK plc.

"Securing and maintaining the recruitment, retention and development of women in mid management roles now, is the only way a pipeline of women in senior executive roles can be maintained in the recovery," she continued.

Asked to select one prediction for the world of work in three years' time, the workers polled appeared to be bracing themselves for a bitter legacy from the recession.

The top prediction was for the re-emergence of presenteeism and a long hours working culture as people sought to ensure their continued survival within the workplace.

A further 12 per cent believed corporate expectations of working hours will have changed, with a tenth predicting that uncertainty about financial and work issues will have caused people to delay having a family.

Last month a poll of more than 100,000 workers in 34 countries found the desire to down-shift and do something more "worthwhile", even if it meant taking a pay cut, was strong among workers across the globe.

The research by recruitment firm Kelly Services found that the recession was potentially prompting a wholesale re-evaluation of what workers wanted from work and from their workplaces, raising significant challenges for managers when it came to motivating and engaging workers through and beyond the global slump.