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Finance employers – listen carefully

By Karen Young, Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance 

As Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance in the UK, it’s been my privilege to work with many talented individuals looking to further their careers. As I listen to the stories from many talented women however, I keep hearing the same thing, that many are still struggling to gain the most basic of equalities: respect.

Only 39% of women working in accountancy and finance believe that their opinions are heard and respected, our research for the Hays UK Diversity & Inclusion report 2018 has revealed. For every woman whose opinion is heard, two more voices fall on deaf ears, adding another obstacle to an already challenging career path for many women. If we truly are to ‘balance for better’ this International Women’s Day, we need to stop talking about how to make improvements and start listening.

The cost of indifference

A failure to listen, and the lack of respect it implies, creates many additional challenges. It becomes more difficult for professionals to demonstrate their talents and stand out from the crowd, it restricts their ability to grow, and consequently restricts their organisations from growing – at a detriment to both employer and employee.

Only 31% of women working in accountancy and finance firmly believe that they have equal career opportunities to their colleagues. Of those who felt their career options had been limited, 62% of women believed this was because of their gender, compared to only 16% of men, who feel inequality more keenly in regard to their age (48%) or ethnicity (58%).

What does this say about leaders?

As professionals face obstacles in their daily lives and career ambitions, they lose faith in the people who should be their champions. Only 34% of women in accountancy and finance positions currently trust their leaders to deliver change on the diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda. This level of mistrust is affirmed by the 57% of female professionals who believe that their leaders have a natural bias towards people who look, think or act like them.

Until employers are seen to be proactively pursuing diversity and equality in the workplace and taking steps to ensure that the voices of all their employees are heard, the trust-deficit will remain. By giving employees an equal chance to share their ideas, leaders will not only cultivate a healthier working culture, but always allow the most talented to rise to the top. This is something which is of vital importance in the current UK climate of widespread skills shortages.

What can you do?

Begin by being more aware of your actions as an inclusive employer and leader within your organisation. Try to recognise your own unconscious bias and mitigate the consequences they have on your team. Be open and authentic when you communicate with those under your wing and actively seek out their opinions. This can be done through face-to-face meetings or more anonymous methods, whichever is more appropriate.

The important thing is that your employees, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or background, feel as if they have an equal platform to voice concerns or thoughts. This will increase trust and loyalty and give everybody the chance to express ideas, which could improve both the way you do business, and the culture you create. When recruiting, ensure you’re starting potential candidates off on an equal footing by potentially introducing name blind recruiting and forming diverse interview panels who assess to competency-based criteria. This will help demonstrate a commitment to D&I early on and offer a better candidate experience by allowing talented professionals to stand out based on their skills and experiences alone.

For your existing workforce, establishing D&I champions, groups and other programmes can all help greater representation in the workplace. Not just for women, but also for those of different ethnic groups, abilities and ages. Inclusive leaders should openly celebrate the social, personal and commercial successes which result from these, thereby increasing employee confidence in their leaders as well as their own ability to speak out – and, of course, be heard.

Although we are starting to see improvements in gender diversity, we all have a part to play to continue this journey. View our diversity page for more insights from Hays experts, and to get the latest Hays UK Diversity & Inclusion report.

About this author

Karen is a Director and recruiting expert at Hays Accountancy & Finance. She provides strategic leadership to a team of 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across 100 UK offices. With 20 years of finance recruitment experience, Karen has a track record of recruiting top finance talent for businesses across a range of industry sectors, and is a trusted industry voice on career planning and market insights.

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