Securities Finance Times feature article | Moving the needle – Securities Finance Times

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Carmella Haswell discusses the current priorities facing women in securities finance and lending, from the rise of women’s networking events to avoiding the box-ticking trap. In the first of two articles, industry veterans reflect on their biggest accomplishments and their first steps into the world of finance

While trending environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles are encouraging financial firms to prioritise their diversity agenda, women in securities finance are using their platforms to make strides in supporting other women and challenging the status quo to provide career progression for females in the industry.

According to the Global Principles for Sustainable Securities Lending (Global PSSL), boards need to prioritise their diversity agenda to meet the requirements of investors, who seek an alignment with global ESG standards.The organisation argues that companies with a diverse workforce produce more considered decisions, which lead to better investor outcomes and stronger corporate governance.

Evaluating the current industry landscape, head of post trade straight-through processing (STP) business development at MarketAxess, Camille McKelvey, says: “I would not say that securities finance has necessarily changed in and of itself, but the whole of the broader industry is starting to change and have a larger focus on gender diversity. It is still male dominated across the broader industry and within securities financing — I do not know what the numbers are — but my gut sense is that female representation is not a high enough percentage.”

Similarly, the co-head of global securities lending at BBH Marney McCabe comments: “The general awareness and eagerness to create a more diverse and inclusive industry is where I have seen the biggest change. People are more inclined to educate themselves around the importance of diversity and inclusion. Individuals are recognising the importance of this development and are open to finding ways to effect change.”

Corporate culture

Speaking to SFT, senior vice president and head of client relationship management for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at eSecLending, Jacqueline Waller, reflects on the underrepresentation of women in finance and the challenge of spotting the gaps.

“Over the past three decades, I have seen considerable change in the number of women employed across the securities finance industry, with some of this shift predating mainstream D&I and ESG policies.” However, she believes much more still needs to be accomplished, particularly in relation to front office roles where representation from women is typically lower compared to men. “Although there may be several reasons why women hold fewer of these positions, a significant factor is that these roles have historically not welcomed flexible working conditions which disproportionately impact women.” Waller explains.

With the COVID-19 pandemic providing greater opportunity for remote working, this has provided greater flexibility in working arrangements for both women and men in finance. With this in mind, Waller hopes that such proximity bias does not creep its way back into corporate culture.

Inline with Waller’s comments, McCabe adds: “In comparison to the rest of the financial services industry, global markets and execution businesses in general seem to struggle with attracting diversity, particularly at the more senior levels.” This has also been linked to a lack of flexible working, which has acted as a deterrent for those in need of it.

When State Street’s head of global markets for Europe, Simona Stoytchkova, first entered the industry in 2001 as one of a small number of diverse candidates, opportunities to enter into front office roles were limited. Stoytchkova says: “The financial services industry as a whole has understood that diversity in teams has a positive effect on performance and the securities finance and lending space is no exception. Currently, we are in a position where demand for diverse talent exceeds supply at all levels. That said, in the securities finance space, this imbalance is significantly lower than the very traditionally male dominant environments like FX trading.”

Similarly, when Christine Lowe, head of client coverage at WeMatch, first entered into trading, there were fewer women in her domain. Lowe attributes the early starts and the long hours as some of the aspects of the job which contributed to barriers, particularly owing to family commitments. However, Lowe feels that this is changing with more women becoming more prevalent across trading desks.

Pinpointing the year of the Global Financial Crisis, Lowe argues that a cultural shift began post 2008 that aided the integration of women into the workforce. “The wider investment banking ethos has adapted to a new environment. The banning of proprietary trading and the changes in how we manage risk and capital are examples of a more nuanced and balanced approach to how making money and maintaining a more sustainable work life balance has helped women and men balance family and work responsibilities,” Lowe continues.

A trending focus on ESG principles could also be contributing to a shift in attitudes, though the size of its impact is difficult to quantify. However, for State Street ESG plays a vital part in product offering and office culture. According to Stoytchkova, the launch of the firm’s Global Inclusion Center of Excellence 13 years ago has pushed State Street to champion opportunities for individuals with diverse backgrounds.

A target number

The journey to improve female representation within financial services, in an effort to change the status quo of a male-dominated industry, has provided both a drive forward for the industry as well as a drawback. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has demonstrated that working towards targets can help to deliver gender diversity. The FCA signed the Government’s Women in Finance Charter — an organisation that seeks to increase the representation of women in the financial services sector, particularly at senior levels — in 2016 and has published its level of female representation. On 12 March 2021, Britain’s watchdog reported female representation of its senior leadership team (SLT) at 43 per cent, up from 40 per cent in 2020. Despite missing its 45 per cent target for 2020, the FCA achieved a 3 per cent increase. The organisation aims to reach 50 per cent of women in SLT by 2025.

STEM Women, a UK-based group providing inclusion and diversity recruitment resources, also finds that gender diversity in UK financial services has seen improvements in recent years, with women now making up 43 per cent of the workforce. Unfortunately, there is a vast imbalance for women in the top levels of financial services.

The challenge remains to bridge the gap between the percentage of women employed in financial services and those employed in senior roles. Arguably, certain firms may be viewing these targeted attempts to incorporate more women in the industry as just that — a target number. The ‘box-ticking’ exercise presents a barrier for career progression, with several women interviewed by SFT concerned about the proportion of females in lower paid and lower profile roles, relative to those at executive level. Embracing diversity and acknowledging the value that it brings to industries is essential in changing the mindset of those in financial institutions — so that women can climb the career ladder.

Responding to the ‘box-ticking’ issue, WeMatch’s Lowe says: “As a woman, I feel proud of the industry and how people within it treat both men and women. We have to be realistic and do it in a measured way. I do not believe any woman wants to feel like they are a quota fill. But by the same token, equality of opportunity and a level playing field is really important.”

In discussing how women can flourish in the industry and how firms can improve their approach towards women in finance, Waller explains that it is no longer sufficient for firms just to specify the percentage of women in their organisation when fulfilling their D&I reporting. Instead, beneficial owners want to understand the granularity of seniority when it comes to these measures. Here lies a key issue, Waller explains: “Women may now be a larger proportion of the workforce, but they are typically being employed in lesser paid, lower profile roles.”

MarketAxess’ McKelvey says the challenge now is to go beyond the goals of the 30% Club — a global campaign group acting to increase gender diversity on boards and senior management teams — where there is a heavy focus on representation within the senior and junior ends of organisations. McKelvey notes that there is much work to be done on the middle layer, where there is also a discrepancy in gender diversity.

Weighing in on the debate, McKelvey has mixed feelings about firms having to meet a quota of women. She now looks at gender diversity across financial services as she does with any other part of the business, where targets are set and efforts and resources are put in place to hit them.

“If we do not at least try to encourage recruiters and ask them to send more diverse CVs, then we will not move the needle. I am not a fan of saying you have to hire a female, because I still feel that the best person for the job should be hired for the job, but having more females in the mix is key. We also need to focus on encouraging women into the industry and, more importantly, making sure that they stay,” McKelvey elaborates.

The need for a more diverse workforce has been part of the narrative prior to ESG, according to BBH’s McCabe, who says the mandating of equality in the workplace is the real change taking place across the industry. McCabe continues: “We need to make sure that we are setting people and businesses up for success. It cannot only be because you need to meet your year-end quota around diversity.” The ‘check-the-box’ exercise leads to women being forced into roles without the support that they require. Without a proper investment in a firm’s employees, creating equal opportunities for everyone, individuals and institutions will be set up to fail, McCabe adds.

The advancement of women is an advancement for the company. Speaking to SFT, State Street’s Stoytchkova says: “It has been backed up by statistical quantitative research that companies with diverse teams are more profitable and add value to investors. Diversity for me is like an iceberg — there are factors which are visible, like gender or race, ethnicity, but there are several factors that are not visible, like social background or personal experiences, which all contribute to the diverse intersectionality of a person.” Stoytchkova adds that the difficulty lies in overcoming unconscious biases, for example the desire to hire someone that mirrors the hiring manager’s background.

Reflecting on the investment required to support women in the workplace, Waller says that women need to feel empowered to embrace opportunities when they come along. Waller is thankful for the benefit of having a senior female mentor early on in her career for guidance. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many women. Waller believes a female mentor can help female employees to tackle challenges that confront them in the workplace, such as a lack of confidence and a pressure to change oneself in order to apply for a particular role.

“This is where networking groups, such as Women in Securities Finance (WISF), are becoming game changers, providing a much-needed support network across the industry. Women most definitely have a voice, but they require the opportunity and the means to express it,” explains Waller.

Building a network

The ICMA Women’s Network (IWN) began eight years ago, starting with a small group of women across ICMA member firms. The network has now expanded to more than 4,000 people and to 11 different committees across several regions. McKelvey, who represents the UK on the International Steering Committee of the IWN and is one of the founders of the organisation, says the group has focused since its beginnings on helping women at any level of their career. Holding events throughout the year, the IWN has allowed women to build up their networks.

The events, which attract a variety of women from junior analysts and graduates to senior executives, involve either a keynote speaker or a panel conversation. This then follows on to speed networking with a committee member and a senior representative from an ICMA member firm. “Network is key, and one of our own board members at MarketAxess, president of Loop Capital Markets Kourtney Gibson, summarised it well when she said ‘Your network is your net worth’,” explains McKelvey.

Echoing the sentiment, Waller admits that she had attained her position at eSecLending through the power of networking. “The ability for women to connect in these sorts of forums cannot be underestimated in my mind and I think it speaks volumes that more and more women are continuing to join these organisations. Networking professionally is a discipline that many women I speak to have historically shied away from, yet it is so important in terms of making that next career change or gaining insight and support.”

McCabe is the co-chair of BBH Boston Women’s Network and co-lead for the WISF Boston chapter. She has been actively involved within the groups for the past 10 years and hopes to pay forward the help that she received from such groups.

“There is a core group of senior women here at Brown Brothers, who I have great respect for. They have been instrumental in my success here in terms of having those female colleagues, someone to look up to and acting as an informal mentorship. They have created opportunities for me and helped me navigate the organisation. Navigating an organisation is a very important part of career development. They have been my champion when I’m not in a room,” McCabe explains.

Despite networking events for women being available, the number of women attending annual financial conferences has seemed to dwindle relative to the amount of male attendees. “This type of networking has typically not been regarded as accessible for women. At industry events for example, most attendees are men, maybe because the front office roles which dominate them are not held by women or women are unable to attend for childcare or other domestic reasons.” Waller explains.

The women in this feature have raised a common solution which is to include men in the dialogue and to promote allyship. “It is important that we make any networks inclusive and encourage men to be a part of the conversation by joining the events, being on the panel and in the audience. If we do not do that, we do not get the support from everybody and then these conversations are probably not going to advance. Clearly the majority of people that attend are women, but we have seen a slight shift in the balance and are seeing more men involved,” says McKelvey.

Reinforcing this critical notion, BBH‘s McCabe says men need to buy into the benefits of diversity and be supportive of it. That means men being open to challenging unconscious biases, creating general awareness and not making it a check-the-box exercise. She says: “When we have men in the room, it makes us that much better, that much stronger, that much more powerful. We have to have allyship across the industry.”

Reaching milestones

MarketAxess’ McKelvey reflects on her biggest achievements within an almost two decade long career in finance, beginning with recognition she received at the Markets Media awards last year, where she won the Trailblazer Award. “I have got a platform — thanks to the support of MarketAxess and being involved with the IWN — to be able to speak up and hopefully drive positive change in the industry. To be recognised for that and for the work that I do in the repo markets is great.” McKelvey entered the industry in the hope that she could leverage her languages degree in Russian and French, but instead fell in love with repo and has not looked back since.

McKelvey’s work with the IWN was another significant milestone. She will harness the expertise to help launch the first internal women’s network at MarketAxess. McKelvey will co-head the organisation alongside senior marketing and communications manager for EMEA and APAC Erika Bianco, and head of index and ETF solutions Kathryn Sweeney. This aims to help women at MarketAxess to network and grow in their careers.

eSecLending’s Waller had a shared dream with McKelvey which was to work in the city of London. She never had the belief that women could not do things, which she attests to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Waller explains: “Whether you agreed with her politics or not, here was a woman who came not from privilege, but had the determination to succeed no matter what the obstacles.”

Waller had always wanted to carve a career in economics and suggests, modestly, that longevity is her greatest accomplishment. After more than 25 years in securities lending, Waller says: “To have longevity in your career, there are times when you may have to take a leap of faith and consider something different for your own personal development. My varied career is testament to the fact that I have been willing to embrace and make those changes even if they seemed daunting at the time.”

McCabe was introduced to BBH with little knowledge of the securities lending industry, but quickly got up to speed and was completely intrigued by an industry that was so dynamic, interesting and exciting. “I am really proud of my past 15 years and what I have accomplished at Brown Brothers. I started as an individual contributor and have worked my way through different roles, primarily being client and market facing. My current role is probably one of my proudest moments in my career to date and perhaps one of the most challenging.”

Speaking to women entering the industry, McCabe says: “I have two pieces of advice for women – never underestimate the power of your network and always ask questions. Every week, have coffee with someone new, ask for a new introduction, make yourself known. Ask questions with the intent to learn more and provide your perspective.”

Adding to this piece of wisdom, WeMatch’s Lowe, who joined the financial services sector for the opportunity to achieve diverse career progression, encourages everyone to not be afraid to ask for feedback, as it will help provide clarity on your path.

Speaking on her career, Lowe attributes an intellectual interest in economics, financial markets and politics to drawing her into the market. She adds: “I spent 20 years building a successful career across prime finance at a senior level. I joined a fintech startup as I was drawn to being in an evolving fintech industry, which supports my career aspirations, gives me work life balance, in a senior role as a woman. It feels good to be on the path that I originally set out.”

State Street’s Stoytchkova was inspired by her parents to follow her passion and to believe in herself. Growing up watching her parents establishing careers, sharing the workload and supporting one another, showed Stoytchkova that it is possible. “I come from a humble background, with limited networks and worked quite hard to persevere in the financial service industry,” Stoytchkova explains.

One of Stoytchkova’s biggest accomplishments is attaining her current role at State Street and becoming a member of the Executive Management Board of State Street Bank International. She continues: “It is a huge role and very exciting, full of opportunities to grow in EMEA with my colleague and UK lead, Michael Eldridge, and our manager, Martine Bond, whom I continue to learn from daily. It took me 20 years to get here, and I know some of my male peers have had a quicker career progression, but I would not take back any day of my work experience and lessons, which I now pass on to younger generations through mentoring and networking events.”

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