Right direction, wrong gear

Progress is being made in the derivatives industry to balance gender equality in senior positions, but to achieve something more significant, change needs to gain momentum.

There’s never been a better time for women in financial services. Whether it’s an entry-level role, senior position or a case of setting up your own business, at no point in history has it been better for professional women.

That was the message from those interviewed for this feature. However, this was very much the prefix to the fact that these gains have been marginal and more needs to be done to balance out gender equality, in an industry which has a lot of catching up to do.

More than ever before, the top roles at clearing houses, technology vendors and exchanges are being held by women in the derivatives industry.

In recent years it has become much easier to create a flexible working environment, set up your own business and work on a contractual or consultancy basis.

Add into the equation that the UK is one of the first countries to introduce gender pay gap reporting, requiring 9,000 employers to publish their gender pay gap.

The above can all be described as progress, but the rate of speed is simply not quick enough.

The reality is the number of women in senior front-office roles of investment managers and banks is still in stark contrast to that of their male counterparts.

One industry expert told The TRADE that banking culture still has to go through a lot of change before work environments and senior roles become attractive to female talent in derivatives trading.

In some areas of the banks, most notably at the rates and fixed income desks, the proportion of female swaps and rates traders is relatively low.  In an industry that has traditionally relied on relationship-driven business, it has been difficult for women to balance the demands of networking and social entertainment with a family life, according to one renowned industry expert.

“The risk-taking and commercial roles were more aggressive, they were much more demanding in terms of hours and social enterainment etc,” says Jenny Knott, CEO, NEX Optimisation.

“It is still very difficult for women to take up senior roles on the risk-taking side in derivatives because balancing a family life with work is a massive conflict to that risk-taking architecture.”

Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given the inflexible nature of the trading desk and market opening times, along with the stereotypes associated with trading and the 90s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ image many outside the industry might have.

Yet one of the main challenges in increasing the number of women in senior derivatives positions is to do with retention rates.

In areas such as finance, legal, and investor relations, where there is a statistically higher proportion of women than in trading, the pressures of client entertaining and networking is less intense.

“Often there aren’t the extended networks that allow women to stay in those frontline roles. To stay on a trading desk it is very difficult to take a career break to have children,” adds Knott.

“A big part of the challenge is keeping women in the industry long enough for them to gain the experience and the skills necessary to carry out the senior roles,” says Michelle Neal, president of BNY Mellon’s Markets Group.

“A lot of women suspend their careers at the VP level when they start families and managers need to be equipped to help them navigate those changes. That means creating a management environment where women are able to balance continued career advancement with their new family life.”

Despite the challenges, women in the derivatives industry are optimistic for the future and see initiatives firms are putting into place as being able to lure more women into the industry.

At some of the biggest derivatives exchanges and clearing houses, there are more female executives than ever before. Last year Nasdaq became the first exchange group to name a female CEO. It also has female head of its global clearing business. In addition at CME Group, almost half of its management team are women.

“In our recruiting efforts, we make sure we have a broad range of people and perspectives around the table. Because we have put so much emphasis on that, we have done very well in advancing these leadership roles,” says Julie Holzrichter, chief operating officer, CME Group. 

While there has been significant improvement in promoting women in the derivatives industry, there is still a sense that more can be done.

“Becoming better at this is not just a matter of equality, for Nasdaq it’s also a question of competitiveness,” says Julia Haglind, president of Nasdaq Clearing.

“Being the best at introducing, including and empowering women in the finance industry would go a long way to strengthen our talent supply beyond that of our competitors.”

Similarly, at other organisations that have promoted women into senior roles, it has paved the way for a larger female recruitment drive.

Certainly on the post-trade and technology side, women have been able to progress to the very top roles, Blythe Masters, Charlotte Crosswell, and Kim Taylor, as well as Knott, Haglind and Neal.

There’s a sense that women in the industry are banding together to encourage others to join the derivatives sector. The ‘Women in Listed Derivatives” (WILD) association aims to promote networking and relationship building among women in the listed and OTC derivatives markets through mentoring programmes and educational events.

There is work to be done. Many buy-side firms contacted about the issue of female employees either declined to comment or replied explaining they had no women on the buy-side at all.

One thing is certain, those women who are a part of the industry; do not feel as though their gender has particularly hindered their progression in climbing the career ladder.