Young Female Employees: A Risky Investment?

by Aman Singh Das | May 13, 2011

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Women, especially younger women, continue to flee finance in record numbers, announced a FINS report earlier this week.

Between 2001 and 2010, the number of women over the age of 55 in finance fields -- everything from trading to retail banking -- rose by 296,000, or 45.2%. This reflects the waves of women who joined the industry 30 years ago and stayed.
However, in the same period, the number of women between the ages of 20 and 34 working in the finance industry actually dropped -- by 394,000, or 20.6%, according to a FINS.com analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Younger women either left the field or fewer chose to go into the business at all -- or both.

This also happened to be the same decade as when the ranks of young men fell by just 0.9 percent and banks went to unprecedented efforts across the board to attract and retain women.

But according to several women quoted in the report, these numbers are motivated by a difference in persuasions, not the nature of the industry or the vagaries of working in a male-dominated field. Instead, women of the 21st century don’t feel the need to break the boys' club as their predecessors did.

For example, five years ago American Express witnessed a wave of women leaving to have children. Efforts to retain them as part-time employees were rebuffed, says Susan Sobbott, president of OPEN, the company's small-business division.

Sobbott explains: "Two things were happening. They had already made up their minds long before I approached them. And they didn't believe me; they didn't believe they could manage their work and life as a new mother."

Today, Amex is leading the charge for work-life balance and flexible schedules, most recently partnering with the new Center for Work/Life Policy on a new study that offers a new solution to eliminating the continuing gender inequality in the workplace: Sponsorship.

But let's stop there for a second and turn to what Glencore Chairman Simon Murray said in a recent interview with The Sunday Telegraph about the risk of hiring women, especially young women.

Responding to a recent recommendation by the British Parliament to introduce quotas for female representation in British boardrooms, he said as reported by The Guardian:

"Women are quite as intelligent as men. They have a tendency not to be so involved quite often and they're not so ambitious in business as men because they've got better things to do. Quite often they like bringing up their children and all sorts of other things."
"All these things have unintended consequences. Pregnant ladies have nine months off."
"Do you think that means when I rush out, what I'm absolutely desperate to have is young women who are about to get married in my company, and that I really need them on board because I know they're going to get pregnant and they're going to go off for nine months?"

While the phrasing is certainly insensitive, is there any merit to Murray's statement—especially in light of what happened at American Express five years ago?

Clearly, the women who left Amex to have kids were positive that they wouldn’t be able to handle the pressures of work and family. So does that make them poor business investments?

(Note: after being called out for his "primitive, ill-judged and disappointing" comments by former trade minister Lord Mervyn Davies—who authored the report recommending 25 percent female representation on boards—Murray cordially went on to apologize retracting everything he had said.)

For one final perspective, I'll leave you with this comment from one of the women in the FINS piece, talking about the financial industry:

"There is still an old boys' network and if a guy has a choice to help somebody, it's going to be the guy he drinks with and plays golf with."

There may well still be truth in that. But with women actively choosing different paths, how much truth?

Related:
Britain Wants More Women on Top
The Sponsor Effect: Why Qualified Women Don't Make it To Leadership
Guardian: Glencore Chairman: Women not as ambitious as men

Filed Under: CSR

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