How to encourage financial careers in female students

Nicholas Langham

Nicholas Langham is headteacher at Langdon Park School in Poplar. The school aims to provide students with local partnerships and a wide range of links with major businesses and universities in order to deliver the very best academic education possible, whilst working to develop each and every individual as a whole person. Nick has been deputy head at Conisborough College in Lewisham, deputy head at Haverstock School in London, and assistant head at Stockwell Park High School in London.

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Image credit: Pexels // Bruce Mars. Image credit: Pexels // Bruce Mars.

In 1995, the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs was a grand total of zero; while over the years this has increased, the progress has been slow. In more recent years, the figure rose but remained below five per cent, and in 2016, not one of the 50 new Fortune 500 CEOs were women.

Furthermore, of the 16 most powerful people in finance, as reported by Business Insider in 2016, only three were female. When you look at all these statistics, one thing is as clear as day; there simply aren’t enough females in finance.

But where do we start in addressing the gender imbalance? The government is focused on assessing the issue, but what can we as schools, teachers, and parents do from an early stage to help inspire our current generation and encourage them to consider a career in finance?

In every sector, there are strong figureheads that children aspire to, for example, athletes and sporting stars like Jessica Ennis-Hill, “When it comes to finance it’s more of a challenge to pick out well-known females.”Tom Daley and Cristiano Ronaldo, or celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. And while most sectors have a balanced representation of genders, when it comes to finance it’s more of a challenge to pick out well-known females. Speaking at an event back in 2014, former secretary of state for Education and minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, said: “Women are the largest and fastest growing group of purchasers and investors in the world today... [but] the truth is that young girls in schools today just aren't that likely to see great female engineers, scientists or coders to admire and to emulate” – and quite frankly the same applies to female wealth managers, stockbrokers and traders.

Therefore, we need to provide insight into the different finance-related career opportunities available to girls in order to spark an interest, motivate and raise their aspirations.

So how do we go about this?

The first step is making students aware

Students can only aspire to careers that they know about. A recent survey revealed that the top 10 jobs that children in 2017 wanted included: becoming a YouTuber, blogger/vlogger, musician, actor, filmmaker, doctor/nurse, TV presenter, athlete/teacher, writer and a lawyer. Quite obviously, no finance-related roles feature in the list, despite the industry’s importance on both a UK, and global scale. Perhaps then schools should be providing more career advice and guidance to encourage more students to explore it as an option, and to understand how their skills could be of value.

Here at Langdon Park we believe that girls - and boys - should be given equal opportunities when it comes to career guidance and support. We strive to show our students the diverse, inspirational and versatile jobs that are out there.

When you talk about finance, a lot of students initially picture men in suits with briefcases, working as city bankers. However, there are so many different routes within the industry which we need to raise aware of, including wealth management, investments and hedge funds, insurance, financial planning and accountancy, to name but a few. The industry isn’t designed solely for men, there are skilled females too, yet their talent is wasted or focused in other industries due to the lack of understanding of how it would fit into the world of finance. Schools career services should therefore look at developing greater awareness of the jobs on offer to help foster more interest and enthusiasm for the sector as a whole. Encouraging more girls to consider roles within finance from an early age will then hopefully create a stronger gender balance in the future.

Create connections with local businesses

As I mentioned earlier, inspiration usually comes from a prominent figure in the sector, so what do we do when that doesn’t necessarily exist in the finance sphere? Schools should look to forge relationships with local companies to give students a sneak peek into the real world, to understand what is really involved when it comes to working in finance.

By seeing or hearing exactly what is required, students can make a more informed decision on the skills they need to develop, what subjects to take further, and what industries they should be considering.

Of course, teachers and career advisors aren’t experts in each and every sector, so to provide students with the most accurate and in-depth knowledge, they need to bring in voices from the professional world. In this instance, inviting female professionals who work in the sector with real knowledge to share, helps girls relate to the industry and understand how their skillsets could be applied.

At Langdon, we have run a number of sessions to raise aspirations amongst girls. We held a workshop for 25 of our Year 10 girls, “We held a workshop featuring two inspirational women working in finance.”whom we thought would benefit from a talk from two inspirational women currently working in the world of finance, including a senior finance manager at Wells Fargo Asset Management, with over 15 years’ experience and a BA (Hons) second upper class accounting and finance degree. The workshop focused on encouraging girls to not limit themselves and aim high. Following the event, we asked our students to rate the experience out of five. Out of the 25 students, 22 of them gave it the highest rating.

Barclays also offered a group of our female students who showed a potential interest, to attend a “Females in Finance” workshop, encouraging them consider careers in finance. The event began with a panel discussion offering insights on routes into finance roles, overcoming challenges and balancing life, family and a career. The students participated in an interactive workshop exploring self-confidence and leadership skills, supported by volunteers from the Women’s Initiative Network (WiN).

Hearing from females and gaining an insight into the industry has empowered and inspired our students, allowing them to recognise that there is a place for women and that it is about talent and skills, and not whether or not you’re male or female.

Get hands-on

Encouraging students to get hands-on, and take part in tasks and activities relating to finance, gives them a better idea of what’s involved and the types of things they might be asked to do as part of their job role.

For example, we organised a ‘Money, Money, Money’ event earlier this year, in partnership with Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership for our Year 8 students. The workshop involved business volunteers from Barclays Bank, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, who explained exactly how banks work, focusing on the importance of financial planning and an introduction to savings, loans and debit/credit cards.

Ultimately, exposing students to real-world experience – whether it’s through talks at school, work experience, or visits to local businesses – allows them the opportunities to really understand what a job encompasses, opening their eyes to the opportunities they might not have been aware of before.

By building stronger relationships between finance companies and schools, and providing more balanced, diverse career support and guidance, we will be able to provide more effective opportunities for girls, allowing them to determine whether they want to pursue a future career in finance.

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