Where are all the women in financial services?

For financial professionals only

It doesn’t fill me with pride to admit it, but I stopped being a financial adviser because being the only woman in the team wasn’t something I enjoyed. That wasn’t anybody’s fault, or intention – far from it. It’s just that women are underrepresented in our industry.

While women make up around 51% of the UK population, it’s been estimated that only 1 in 20 financial advisers are female1. Believe it or not, there are more men called David running UK-listed funds than there are women2.

Parmenion’s investment team are bucking that trend, with 3 of our 8 investment managers being women, but we do notice a distinct gender split when we look to recruit. The majority of candidates, from entry level through to experienced, are men.

But why?

It’s a numbers game

Financial services is a brilliant career choice for women. Even pre-pandemic, the ability to work flexibly was widespread, and this is a people business, with relationship building skills as key to success as number crunching.

But when I speak to women about a career in financial services, invariably the response I get is that they don’t feel confident or capable with numbers. In fact, only 33% girls (versus 60% boys) consider themselves best at STEM3.

You can’t be what you can’t see

As children we learn about all the great discoveries through humanity, holding up Einstein, Newton, Pythagoras and a host of other men as superlative examples. It wasn’t until much later in my education that I learned of the mathematical and scientific talents of Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace, for example.

If the main examples we are given of great numeric minds are all male, subconsciously, women will feel inferior on the subject.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

The tide is turning though, with female entrants to the investment management profession almost doubling over the past four years according to the CFA4. The next challenge, then, is attracting them to your business.

Studies show that women respond differently to job adverts than men. Men are comfortable applying for a role if they meet around 60% of the job requirements, whereas women only apply if they meet 100% of them5. Another sticking point can be using male pronouns like “he” when describing the responsibilities of the successful candidate.

If you aren’t seeing the level of female applicants that you want, your own job adverts may be the opportunity to change that. By highlighting a wider range of skills vital to our industry in job ads, we may go some way to attracting more women from the cohort who don’t feel especially numerate.

This leaves one more challenge – retention.

Culture Club

I’m sure we’ve all been in conversation with someone much younger or much older than us, where we’ve referred to a TV show or a song that they’d never heard of. This is because our reference points are based on our lived experience.

In the same way, in conversation men will likely relate more to references that other men make, while women relate to the references of other women.

There’s nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with my younger brother looking at me like I’m a fossil when I tell him we didn’t have the internet when I was his age.

But when there’s a significant proportion of one gender, their collective reference points naturally dominate and that can define the culture. Again, this may not be by design, but if you are a male dominated team, it’s important to be aware of it.

Recognising that a lone female voice is every bit as valid as a group of male voices, even if (or perhaps especially if) what that voice is saying is entirely different, has real value. We’ve already seen there are challenges in having equal representation at the table. To achieve genuine diversity, we have to make the most of those underrepresented views.

After all, what represents 5% of your team may represent 50% of your potential client bank.


  1. Women put off by ‘aggressive’ money advice, report says, October 2017, bbc.co.uk.
  2. More UK funds run by men called ‘David’ than women, November 2019, citywireselector.com.
  3. Living a financially resilient life in the UK – The Moments that Matter in improving women’s and all of our financial future, November 2019, insuringwomensfutures.co.uk.
  4. Female entrants to investment management almost double since 2015, August 2020, moneymarketing.co.uk.
  5. Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified, August 2014, hbr.org.

    This article is for financial professionals only. Any information contained within is of a general nature and should not be construed as a form of personal recommendation or financial advice. Nor is the information to be considered an offer or solicitation to deal in any financial instrument or to engage in any investment service or activity. Parmenion accepts no duty of care or liability for loss arising from any person acting, or refraining from acting, as a result of any information contained within this article. All investment carries risk. The value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up and investors may get back less than they put in. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.  

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