Ageism in City firms must be tackled to end gender inequality

Ageism in City firms must stop if gender inequality issues are to be addressed, HR professionals and equality officials have warned.

Giving evidence at the ‘Women in the City’ Treasury select committee this week, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said ageism within City firms was preventing female career progression.

Phillips said: “The financial services industry has a very particular age structure. It hires and promotes preferentially between 25 and 39, and that in itself immediately poses problems for women.

“The culture of the industry effectively says that, after 40, you haven’t got anything to contribute.”

He added: “If we were able to fix it, it would produce quite a dramatic effect on the opportunities for women.”

Also giving evidence to the select committee, Harriet Harman, the minister for women and equality, likened the City to an “old-fashioned, old-boy’s network”.

The British Bankers’ Association (BBA) admitted Phillips’ comments were “fair”, but said it was “unintentional discrimination”, and that women were “self-selecting themselves out” of certain roles in the industry.

A spokeswoman for the BBA said: “It’s fair in as much that the City has quite a young workforce, so to that extent I can see where he’s coming from, however it’s not the whole picture.

“Women don’t tend to apply for some of the higher-salaried jobs in the City and we don’t really know what’s discouraging them from doing it.

“Where women are far fewer it tends to be in investment banking and on the trading floor, and they seem to self-select themselves out of those roles.”

She said women were now much better represented in retail banks and an increased focus on flexible working in the City had helped to retain and recruit female employees across the board, but she added flexible working would not work in all areas of the financial sector.

One HR director at a leading City firm told Personnel Today that while there was an increased focus on flexible working within the City, it would never be fully accepted and become widespread until men also started to visibly work flexibly.

Sally Boyle, head of human capital management at Goldman Sachs, said: “Men do work flexibly, they just manage it completely differently – they just do it. So until we have men and women working more flexibly, without the stigma attached to it, it will be hard to change the perception that somehow you can’t succeed this way.”

Meanwhile, a report by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has found only half of employers have a pro-age recruitment policy, while many remain nervous about discussing age in the workplace for fear of being accused of discrimination.

Pro-age recruitment policies were found to be less likely in industries dominated by men and those organisations that tended to ‘recruit from within’.

Helen Barnes, principal research fellow at the IES, said: “The number of older workers is rapidly increasing, so it’s essential that both employers and government tackle this issue. We have found that many organisations struggle to raise the issue of age in the workplace, as they are wary of causing offence or risking discrimination. Rather than adopt hard and fast policies on age, almost all employers seem willing to consider modifications to the workplace to retain older workers on a case-by-case basis; but too often employees are also reluctant to raise the issue.”

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