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Charlotte  Proudman

Barrister, Goldsmith Chambers

Quotation Marks
A lack of women in leadership positions within financial firms mirrors a similar dearth of female representation in positions of power within the judiciary

On the Treasury Committee’s Sexism in the City report

On the Treasury Committee’s Sexism in the City report


Dr Charlotte Proudman provides her thoughts on the findings published in the Treasury Committee’s recent report on the challenges women face in financial services

The Treasury Committee’s Sexism in the City report shows, despite years of advocacy, initiatives and promises of reform, progress towards gender equality in financial services remains distressingly unchanged. At a time when nearly 1 in 2 Britons say women’s equality has gone far enough, we are consistently reminded at every turn that strides toward equality are, in reality, little more than incremental improvements. A lack of advancement for women within financial services is more than concerning; it is an unequivocal indictment of pervasive societal issues underpinning gender inequality. From persistent gender pay gaps (the widest average is within financial services) to alarmingly prevalent instances of harassment in the workplace, barriers obstructing the path to gender parity loom large, casting a shadow over the aspirations of countless women striving for equality, recognition, advancement and more in their careers.

The report notes barriers to equality will require a cultural shift, in addition to regulatory action; however, if they seek to contribute to this change, they must dive into a detailed analysis of intersectional diversity. The report acknowledges that challenges would be magnified for many, but deems this aspect ‘out of scope’ (p. 7). This neglects a fundamental component of understanding gender equality and perpetuates a systemic erasure of the experiences of marginalised groups within workforces. Intersectionality isn’t only a concept; it’s a lived reality for countless women who navigate intersecting layers of oppression based on race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and other facets of identity. Disregarding intersectionality in a report with implications for a broader demographic is not just a missed opportunity, it is a disservice to those whose struggles remain invisible within the discourse on gender equality. Recommendations and solutions cannot be truly effective if they do not account for varying degrees of privilege and disadvantage shaping individuals’ experiences in the workplace.

Women in leadership

A lack of women in leadership positions within financial firms mirrors a similar dearth of female representation in positions of power within the judiciary. In both realms, women face formidable barriers impeding movement towards influential roles. According to the report findings, ‘Many described the culture in financial services firms as still being an ‘old boys’ club’ in which recruitment and promotion decisions were biased against women’ (p. 8). In 2023, it was revealed that women only make up 37% of judges in courts; in response, the selection of judges has been referred to as an ‘old boys’ network’. Despite some advancements in gender equality initiatives, persistent underrepresentation of women in both sectors perpetuates a status quo where men predominantly occupy the highest echelons of power. It’s not merely unequal numbers that are an issue: no equality exists under such extreme power imbalances. Systemic reforms are urgently needed to dismantle the barriers hindering their advancement and ensure equitable access to leadership positions.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment remains a rampant issue plaguing both the financial sector and legal profession; a stark reminder of the entrenched culture of misogyny permeating these institutions. The prevalence of such misconduct not only perpetuates a toxic work environment where women feel unsafe and undervalued, but also serves as a damning indictment of the systemic failures to uphold gender equality. I’m horrified, yet unsurprised, to read that non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are used to silence victims (p. 30, 35). It’s not just within financial professions, the persistence of sexual harassment within traditionally male-dominated fields including medicine, media, politics and law, underscores the pervasive nature of gender-based harassment and discrimination. The report correctly states, ‘It is vital that sexual harassment is viewed as a problem for everyone to solve, including men’ (p. 37). Failure to address this endemic issue perpetuates a culture of impunity for perpetrators and shows women they are in danger and deemed undeserving of safety.

In conclusion, much work is needed to achieve gender equality. We must dismantle entrenched biases, implement inclusive policies, and create environments where women can thrive, not merely exist, without fear of discrimination or harassment. Moreover, true gender equality requires proactive efforts to address intersecting forms of oppression and privilege, ensuring the voices and experiences of women are heard and valued, especially women of colour. Until then, gender equality will exist as an aspiration, not a reality.