Data published by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on Friday (25 October) revealed that despite "bold targets", senior levels of finance "are nearly as male today as they were 15 years ago".
The research by the regulator attempted to examine just how much progress has been made regarding gender diversity across senior roles in the financial services industry.
It found that the proportion of women in approved person roles is 17% in UK financial services, and remains almost unchanged since 2005.
The regulator said this does not mean there has been "no change at all", with the proportion of women in approved roles at "systemically important banks" rising, but with the caveat that "the rise has come off a low base and only takes this group to just above a low overall industry average."
Further, "other sectors in finance have lagged well behind and some remain the same ‘old boys clubs' that they ever were".
The FCA studied approximately 400,000 individuals who appear in its historic Approved Person register and its newer incarnation in the Senior Managers and Certification Regime between 2005 and 2019.
In most cases, the FCA estimated gender from title and, in "cases where titles are ambiguous (for example Dr) we used first names as a proxy to determine gender".
It described the data as "a statistically reliable basis for estimating gender diversity at the overall level".
When looking at the results in more depth, comparisons can be made between small and large firms. The FCA defined small firms as "those regulated solely by the FCA" and large firms as "those that are dual-regulated by both the FCA and the Prudential Regulatory Authority".
The FCA found that larger firms, on average, employ a higher proportion of women in approved roles - 23% compared to 17% at smaller firms.
It also said, "the proportion of women is higher in senior management roles than in client-facing roles" with this observation holding true "regardless of the size of the firms".
The data showed that in 2005, the sample group of major firms were "markedly less gender diverse at senior management level than the industry average", but by 2019 more than half have a "female share above the industry average".
It added "many of these firms are signatories to HM Treasury's Women in Finance charter".
Investment management firms stood out as the most gender diverse subgroup with women making up around 26% of senior managers at the 14 firms, with the FCA noting that "some of the most prominent and conspicuously successful women in finance are wealth managers".
At the other extreme sit brokerages, including small investment banks, where women typically account for just over 5% of senior managers, the research showed.
It added that none of the ten brokerages in the sample had a proportion above 16%.
The FCA said that "brokerages have seen a slight fall in the proportion of women holding senior manager roles [between 2005 and 2019]" whereas "all other types of firms showed an improvement".
Despite some of the positive figures, closer inspection revealed "the share of women is higher in non-executive roles than in executive functions".
The FCA concluded: "Whilst there have been gains in gender diversity in some areas, improvement has often come from a very low base and many firms and subsectors continue to lag behind on senior women; some have actually become less gender diverse not more.
"Even where women are found in senior roles the role is disproportionately likely to be a non-executive position rather than a critical decision-making role.
"Overall then the picture is sobering: for all the rhetoric and conspicuous effort by some firms, the upper echelons of many financial services businesses remain as undiverse today as back in 2005."