Having children is still bad for women’s careers in finance

More than half of women working in European financial services who are yet to have children believe that becoming a mother would have a negative impact on their career trajectory. Almost one in four respondents to Financial News’ Women in Finance Survey 2017 fear the impact would be significantly damaging.

Such an image puts young women off entering the industry, according to Camille McKelvey, head of match strategy at data group Trax and a founder member of the International Capital Markets Association’s Women’s Network. She says: “One of the things we struggle with is that women who are even considering coming into this industry are put off by a worry that if, further down the line, they decide to have children, take a break, and then come back, their career will be seriously damaged.”

Gwen Rhys, chief executive of Women in the City, a network she set up in 2003, adds: “I have young women say to me that they know their organisation has maternity provisions, but they’re not easy to find, and they don’t want to go and ask their male manager about them, whether or not they are pregnant. So there’s an issue right at that point.”

Do you have children?

Source: Financial News Women in Finance Survey 2017

Indeed, the reality may not differ much from the perception – 51% of women with children (who represent 42% of FN survey respondents) say that starting a family did have a negative impact on their career success. The results also indicate that little has changed to make it easier for mothers.

One survey respondent, who did not wish to be named, tells how the problem starts as soon as expectant mothers take maternity leave. The woman, who has worked for more than five years in a client-facing role in financial technology, and does not have children, says: “My bosses have already made it clear that they do not support women taking maternity leave. They bragged about ‘the best female employee’, who took two weeks’ maternity leave, ‘got bored’, and returned to work. They also take you into a room when you announce your pregnancy and ask you when you will be coming back, despite the fact that that’s against UK law.”

She believes bosses still need educating on what is acceptable behaviour: “As soon as I got married I experienced a change in my management’s attitude towards me – they started asking me blunt questions such as ‘When are you having babies?’. Once, I had a jumper on for a week because I was sick, and they assumed I was hiding a baby bump.”

For those women who are planning on starting a family, no matter how good a firm’s maternity policies may be, the behaviour of line managers is crucial.

As soon as I got married I experienced a change in my management’s attitude towards me – they started asking me blunt questions such as ‘When are you having babies?’

Helen Beedham, head of corporate affairs at Cityparents, a network of 11,000 parents and professionals in City industries focused on balancing family life with a progressive career, says: “I think the problem does start before people even go on maternity leave, where there are issues. We have people saying they wanted to take their full maternity leave but it was not really encouraged, and some members have commented that the norm in investment banking is to take six months, even though that is a lot less than the statutory entitlement.”

Beedham believes that maternity leave experiences are varied, rather than predominantly negative, but she hears some mothers complaining about line managers who are ill-equipped to be supportive. One member had a one-to-one meeting before she went on leave in which she was told not to expect to be included in promotion opportunities while she was off, despite the fact women on maternity leave should be included in such processes by law.

However, a senior London employment lawyer, advising financial institutions and their employees on discrimination cases, says little has changed in decades. “It may well be that I see the worst examples, but there are still certain banks where you just know that when you come back from maternity they will find you a job, but it will frequently be less interesting, less remunerative and less influential than your previous role,” he adds.

FN survey respondents cited similar experiences. “Since returning from maternity leave I feel less valued and looked over. I intended my career to be fully in financial services but now I question that,” says one mother who has been working in investment banking for more than a decade. “Six months’ maternity leave delayed my promotion by a year,” according another investment banker. One respondent said she left her job and moved elsewhere because her career trajectory dramatically changed after having a child and “any chances of promotion were no longer entertained”. Several others spoke of being “forgotten” while on maternity leave, their “careers stalling”, being passed over for promotion or having to “re-prove their value” after maternity leave.

READ Women in finance are losing the pay battle

Under English law, mothers returning to work after six months’ maternity leave are entitled to return to their previous role, provided it is still there. Those taking a year forego that guarantee, but should come back to the same role unless there is a very good reason why they cannot.

“It’s a sufficiently long period that, for a bank with large financial resources, they may prefer to do what they need to do for the business and pay the consequences, rather than comply with their statutory obligations. The majority of women will come back and take the best job available without causing a fuss,” says the lawyer.

In a survey conducted by Cityparents, mothers were asked to rate the support and response they received from their employer around their maternity, and specifically around their transition back to work. Just 12% of mothers in banking, finance and regulation said they received proactive support; 33% said a good level of support was offered; 32% described the support as neutral at best, and 10% as negative.

Miranda Morad is general counsel at trading platform and trade reporting businesses MarketAxess Europe and Trax, and featured in the most recent FN list of The 100 Most Influential Women in Financial Services. She has two children, and says it can be difficult for bosses and managers to get the balance right.

“I have a woman in my team who just came back from maternity leave, and she’s very ambitious, and I kept telling her to take it easy. I told her I’d be flexible, and yet she came back exactly as she’d promised and she was absolutely fine,” says Morad. “I was trying to give her all the leeway, and eventually she said, ‘Miranda, could you please just make it my choice? You are going easy on me and I feel like you’re giving me a break because I had a baby. Please treat me exactly as you did before I left.’ And that was a great lesson for me.”

READ Women fight back against slow pace of change in finance

She adds: “The difficulty with being a woman in the workplace and being a working mother is far more complicated, and the issues are far more pervasive, than can be solved solely with a decent maternity policy. You can’t just tick a box and say I have a great policy. You have to look at the way you treat women generally, and celebrate what working mothers bring to your organisation.”

Indeed, the number of mothers in the survey who say having children is ‘a struggle but that they made it work’, dropped slightly from 36% in 2016 to 31% this year. Those who feel their career was significantly damaged by having children remained at about 15%.

One respondent who works in the investment services industry, comments that she was sidelined for years after having her child and then had to battle “to prove I could be both mother and manager; it’s a constant stream of pressure and guilt where you never quite fulfil everyone’s expectations”.

Morad agrees: “It’s not without guilt and it’s really tough: those moments in the school yard where I turn up and no-one knows who I am, those are crushing. I say to younger women, forgive yourself for being ambitious. It’s not a negative thing. It’s seen as negative for a woman, and positive for a man. But it’s a good thing to teach your children.”

The culture of organisations is not changing. The values of organisations are still those male-dominated values.

Indeed, FN’s survey found a small proportion of women, 4.5%, who believe that children had a positive impact on their career – the largest portion of whom (38.5%) work in asset management, followed by risk and compliance (15%). A further 13% of women felt that having children had no impact on their success. Respondents talk of becoming “more focused and ambitious” and “more productive” and “fighting hard to make it work”.

An investment banker with more than 20 years’ experience adds: “Having children did not affect my career trajectory, being a woman and not part of the in crowd, i.e. the male crowd, did. I do not feel it was a personal attack just a normal psychological approach of the predominant group – it happens when any group has dominance.”

And FN’s survey results reflect this: 76% of women with children and 64% of those without children are in no doubt that their careers have been hindered simply by being a woman.

Women in the City’s Rhys, agrees this is one of the biggest problems: “The culture of organisations is not changing. The values of organisations are still those male-dominated values, and whilst people can spend money on all the diversity programmes they like, sometimes the fundamental thing of treating women with respect is not there.”