Breaking the glass ceiling

Eugenia Jiménez
Kate Webber, Calastone's managing director and head of product development

Kate Webber, Calastone's managing director and head of product development

Current figures on global gender parity including the latest UK pay gap data prove how much remains to be done to tackle the inequality women experience in the workplace.

Four in 10 private firms in the UK have reported wider gaps than last year, latest data on the UK pay gap compiled by the BBC reveals.

The study, which looks at the organisations' median pay gap, has thrown into question the efficiency of the new pay gap reporting rules heralded by the UK Government last year in a bid to address gender inequality at organisations.

The customer base is changing fast, including positively more women than ever before taking control of their own finances. I do not think that many women would ask their partners or their fathers to manage their investments on their behalf these days, the Victorian era is long since gone!”

While equal pay gaps measure whether women are being paid commensurate with their peers for the work they do, median pay gaps measure whether or not women are holding as many high-paying jobs as men. Thus, narrowing the median pay gap means putting more women in leadership.

The report found that the hourly median gender gap of the 1,146 companies that reported their latest figures (to the date of writing) was 8.4%, a slight improvement compared to the 9.7% of a year earlier.

UK organisations are now under regulatory mandate to disclose median gender pay gaps, a requirement set by the Government last year, which applies to companies, charities, and public sector departments of 250 employees or more.


The international organisation for public-private cooperation published in its latest Global Gender Gap Report that global gender parity was over 200 years away and that no country in the world had achieved gender equality . 

When looking specifically at the financial sector, gender parity's figures are even more astonishing. According to the World Economic Forum, only one in four board members and 6% of financial services firms' chief executives are women.

Culture seems to be a key factor behind this gap (old boys club, "motherhood penalty" or opaque bonus criteria among others) while unconscious biases are probably at play too.

Last year's figures in the UK financial industry confirmed much more needs to be done, with companies like the Bank of America or Citigroup reporting median pay gaps of 41% and 36% respectively in their UK operations.

For its part, the Bank of England reported median disparity was up from 24.2% disclosed in the previous financial year, with male staff working at the Bank being paid an average of 24.6% more than their female peers.

The average gap in bonuses given to men and women also grew from 25.6% to 26.4% at Britain's central bank.

Kate Webber, managing director and head of product development at London technology group Calastone, says: "The private sector has a habit of keeping individual pay private, including at grades. Women don't tend to ask for the pay rise months in advance and prepare their case on why they are worthy of the rise and their value to the firm.

"Organisations pay what they can get away with, this makes good business sense. But at some point, organisations also need to take responsibility for reviewing the pay journeys of men and women and ensuring that they are comfortable with the differences, if indeed they exist, simply because they are the only ones who know the relative pay levels."


Webber was involved in the launch of the Women in Asset Servicing (WiAS) network in October last year.

This initiative targets women working in asset servicing and aims at fostering collaboration across companies to enable greater female representation in senior positions.

"Asset servicing is the point at which the industry meets the customer, the investor.The customer base is changing fast, including positively more women than ever before taking control of their own finances.

"I do not think that many women would ask their partners or their fathers to manage their investments on their behalf these days, the Victorian era is long since gone!," Webber says.

The WiAS network actually targets both women and men of all levels to help build a more inclusive industry.

Webber comments that although more women on boards is imperative, it is also important to help them gain enough confidence to take the next immediate steps, to challenge themselves and widen their comfort zone, to ask for what they want, and to take actions to achieve their goals.

She continues: "In this way, through a huge number of small but important steps by lots of talented people, we will get a significant enough cohort to choose from for the senior positions."

Webber also outlines how Julien Hammerson and Hannah Coulson, Calastone's CEO and Chief HR Officer backed and encouraged her to launch the WiAS network, while sponsoring events and provided advice and feedback since the beginning.  

"The network is taking off fast because there is a clear need, we are addressing a gap in asset servicing and there are huge levels of enthusiasm to get involved from women and men," Webber concludes.   


Webber says that the elevation of more women into senior roles in the industry depends on getting them through the "mushy" middle management, which is impossible without the learning and the experience.

"There is an argument which says that women today are over-mentored and under-sponsored. Identifying talent and helping them to progress through the management levels is key," she states.

Webber believes that while most organisations want greater diversity and inclusiveness in their teams, a lot remains to be done to facilitate this objective.  

"Top-down, command centric diversity programmes are not always gaining the results that they want, neither is mentoring alone. I think that organisations need to tackle the core issues as well as the periphery ones.

"The core issues are confidence and self-belief, ensuring that women properly self-recognise their talents and thirdly, helping them to network both within and outside of their organisation. Networking not just for one's own gain, but as a give back exercise.

"The enabling factors such as flexible working, maternity and paternity leave, etc., should be termed as family issues not just female issues. Our changing economy means that more women will need to work in the future. Millennials are more open to a wider set of values than simply making money. It is possible that by addressing women in the workforce today, asset servicing organisations are future proofing themselves to attract, retain and nurture talent with engaged, positive staff well into the future."


Webber also criticises how some organisations justify their gender imbalance by saying that women are simply not applying. In her view, this is a bit of a cop out and pushes the responsibility back to women.

What firms should do instead, according to her, is to look at the window on their culture, their website.

"The words in the job spec are also crucial in demonstrating collaboration, not just target culture. Also pushing their recruiters harder to find the potential candidates, not from just within financial services. Diversity of thought is more than gender after all.

"But it is also about identifying the talent early on within an organisation and helping them to progress. Women do need to be braver for sure, but organisations also need to nurture that bravery and steadily extend comfort zones.

"Internal candidates are often effective more quickly and cost effective than having to go externally. It also creates a great buzz in an organisation. Even women at senior levels do not always think of themselves when the next role comes up, sometimes this needs to be pointed out," Webber concludes.