Could the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic drive deeper reflection and positive action on the issues of equity for females in finance and in the broader Australian community?

The picture is quite stark, leading us at Madden to discuss the role of women in finance as well as the difficulties females face to not only enter, but remain in this industry with their unique perspective and leadership qualities valued and intact.

We have been speaking to a few well-known women who are making an impact in the industry about their perspective on the still low representation of women and issues that still persist and hinder women’s rise in financial services, as well as the broader community issue of boosting greater financial wellbeing for females.

The current imbalances exist for longstanding reasons, including disrupted career paths for women, less pay for equal work and being under-represented in leadership roles compared with men. The additional burdens of more time out of the workforce and traditionally bearing greater family responsibilities also reflects in the retirement savings gap between the genders.

Even though there are signs of progress as seen by the Financy Women’s Index, which posted its best performance of 2019 in the December quarter after rising by 0.9% from September, with the number of women on ASX 200 boards now occupying 30.7% of positions coupled with positive female tertiary education enrolment rates, the state of play for women in financial services remains dramatically disadvantaged. Last week’s release of the Financy Women’s Index has also now recorded the weakest quarterly pace, reflecting the slowdown in full-time employment growth among women and rising unemployment relative to men which could be further impacted and in turn delay the economic equality in Australia pending on the long-term impact of COVID-19.

Speaking to business and finance journalist at Seven News and anchor at ausbiz, Gemma Acton, who has worked in different roles within the financial industry, she believes there has been great progress made by companies to solve the current dynamic, such as new maternity leave policies being introduced, but she thinks more still needs to be done to accommodate women’s needs and empower them to take on more leadership roles in grueling financial jobs.

Gemma believes the still low representation of women in the industry is due to a hangover of people’s perception of an 80s trading floor filled with testosterone-fueled men screaming at each other, when in fact women need to be able to act as women in leadership roles, as their unique emotional intelligent is especially powerful in this industry. Unfortunately, many women in these roles seem to still feel the need to adapt to essentially be more like a man in a man’s world, when they would instead be able to bring different strengths to the board and more balance to the industry.

Jessica Brady, founder and financial adviser at Fox & Hare, also agrees as a lot of younger females are not seeing the real role a financial adviser plays in people’s lives, and believes that the rates of admission into financial advice studies are predominantly male due to the lack of education on how very EQ related these roles are, rather than just being about IQ and numbers on a spreadsheet. She feels that if we did a better job of educating students, empowering women with more confidence and showcasing more women leaders in these roles, we’d be able to introduce more empathy to the industry and in turn see more women getting advice if more women were to give advice too.

This change would also improve women’s financial wellbeing, as women are also not as financially empowered as men even though they are usually seen as the decision makers in the household.

Particularly when it comes to retirement, women are still retiring with significantly less super than men, and divorced women are especially impacted by this causing longevity risks for women outliving their savings.

Jessica believes change in current policies must come from the Government first, but companies and superannuation funds must be put under the spotlight too. To change the dynamics of women being left behind financially, companies must extend the opportunity to have more parental support for men by improving their financial leave policies more broadly and pay super during parental leave. It is also essential to educate women about their options in the chance of divorce as people now have the option to spouse split their superannuation.

Gemma also agrees there is a big gender imbalance when it comes to super but is encouraged by the promise seen in some women who have started impressive super businesses in the last couple of years in Australia, specifically aimed at women.

From our perspective, the need to push for a more diverse, fair working environment for all has never been more important and the industry must adapt to serve women better as it is currently losing $700 billion by not meeting their requirements. There is still a lot of work to be done in Australia, but it is positive to hear from some of these women who are making their contribution to the industry and paving the way for a better financial future for women.

Perhaps COVID-19 will force the industry to pave the way to a renewed outlook of our working environment and in turn become of advantage to women.