Gender gap in finance industry: challenges ahead

Eugenia Jiménez
Paule Ansoleaga (left) and Simonetta Cristofari, co-founders of MWE

Paule Ansoleaga (left) and Simonetta Cristofari, co-founders of MWE

As recent data finds that global gender parity is over two centuries away and that no country in the world has achieved gender equality, initiatives like MWE become increasingly important.

Since gender equality is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive, ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half of the world's total talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide, says the World Economic Forum.

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 . The report, surveying 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity across four thematic dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment), found that Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden were the countries making the greatest progress in reducing their gender gap by more than 80%.

“We want to re-design the role of capital in society by building a future in which finance is instrumental to social and environmental progress,” says Ansoleaga.

Conversely, Italy, Cyprus and Malta are at the tail of the list ranking Italy 82th out of 144 countries for equal opportunities for women. Inequalities at work - in terms of participation, career opportunities, and wages - make a major contribution to the very poor result.

In terms of equal pay, Italy ranked 126th out of the 144 countries, and the share of unpaid daily work - 61.5% for Italian women versus 22.9% for men - was among the factors leading Italy to the less virtuous countries.

When looking specifically at the financial sector, gender parity's figures are even more astonishing. Only one in four board members and 6% of financial services firms' chief executives are women. In some of the UK's top financial institutions, women are paid half as much as men. 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.


Paule Ansoleaga Abascal, from Bilbao at the Basque Country in Northern Spain, joined the financial industry in Italy some five years ago after having spent over six years in London, almost three in Switzerland, one year in Paris and half in Copenhagen.

She admits that the reality she found in the Italian financial industry with regards to gender parity encouraged her and her partner, Simonetta Cristofari, to launch an initiative aimed at tackling some of these issues.

MWE, "an initiative launched by women, for everyone" was officially founded in July 2015 by Paule Ansoleaga and Simonetta Cristofari. At its early stages, it simply consisted of a group of women holding regular roundtable meetings to discuss gender parity issues as well as the need of re-shaping the role of capital in society for building a future in which finance is instrumental to social and environmental progress.

After this first meeting took place more than three years ago, MWE has hosted 11 events gathering Italian financial professionals, including both men and women, seeking to raise awareness on important topics such as unconscious gender biases or the power of gender intelligence to foster inclusive mindsets. Ansoleaga underlines how these meetings address gender parity issues from a humorous point of view, instead of as a complain on the status quo. 

Ansoleaga explains: "The MWE mission is to build a clear moral and economic case for gender parity and for an inclusive ecosystem in the financial industry.

"We want to re-design the role of capital in society by building a future in which finance is instrumental to social and environmental progress."

She continues outlining how in her views, gender is just the starting point for addressing diversity since all those supporting the MWE initiative stand for an industry that welcomes everyone, regardless their gender, background, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity or religion.

MWE's main goals are inclusion, networking, awareness and empowerment. The initiative aims at creating an ecosystem that encourages diversity and inclusion in the financial sector; forming a strong network of financial professionals to encourage idea-sharing and grow together; raising awareness of unconscious biases and promoting an inclusive mindset; and empowering women and all minorities to help them advance professionally and personally. 

Focusing on the goal of raising awareness, Ansoleaga exemplifies: "In July, my boss and myself organised an event for institutional investors in Rome. From 60 participants, I was the only woman.

"But what I found surprising was the fact that nobody there found it odd. This is what I mean when referring to the need of creating awareness. Sometimes privilege is agnostic to those who own it and that's why we want to start by raising awareness."


At macro level, advancing women's equality can add$12 trillion to global growth, and at micro level, gender equality in decision‐making positions improves the company's bottom line.

Other benefits include access to a wider talent pool, more innovation, an enhanced connection to customers, and a greater integration of social and environmental factors into strategic decisions.

It could be said that gender equality is a moral and economic imperative for success.

The importance of gender equality led the United Nations to include it in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls."This empowerment is one of the most effective ways to accelerate economic development, reduce poverty and build sustainable societies around the world.

"We need US$7 trillion to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and we will not achieve them if we leave half our population behind. This is why the World Bank is committed to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women. It's not just the right thing to do - it's the smart thing to do to ensure a better future for all," Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank Chief Executive Officer said.


MWE events are open discussions on diversity, inclusion, and unconscious biases, from varying experiences and professional points of view.

Some 300 financial professionals of over 40 companies have been involved in the 11 events MWE has held so far.

"Our efforts have proven to create a positive ripple effect: for instance, an Italian Bank launched a Women Leader initiative after a senior member attended one of our events," highlights Ansoleaga.

She concludes: " I truly believe that capitalism has made many mistakes by its own greed but it is possible to re-shape it. There is an emerging and growing movement of women, millennials, and others that are trying to build a more sustainable and equal world starting by finance."