Blog: Changing perceptions

Encouraging diversity is a key challenge faced by the pensions industry and, whilst many are taking steps to try and improve representation, it seems like further improvements could be made.

A recent Winmark and Barnett Waddingham report revealed that, despite 40 per cent of firms taking “active steps” to encourage diversity on their trustee boards, the representation of women on trustee boards seemed to be falling. Indeed, just 14 per cent of the trustee chair respondents were women, a 4 percentage point fall compared to 2019.

The report also revealed that the majority of trustee chairs cited a lack of female candidates as the key barrier in getting more representation on trustee boards. This could be seen as a slightly lazy excuse, and one that could imply some organisations are not actually treating diversity as a genuine goal, but as a tick box exercise.

It is a sad truth that many job adverts simply don’t receive any applications from a range of diverse applicants. However, it’s important to look deeper at how these roles, and the broader industry, are being advertised to the world. After all, financial services as a broader industry has typically been designated a ‘male sector’, a perception which it will take time to break and which could cause some to feel alienated.

After copying and pasting a recent pensions industry job advertisement, which had received no female candidates, into an online gender bias analysis tool, it returned to say that the job advert was male orientated in its wording and tone. This may seem like an unimportant detail, but if every job advert is falling into this pitfall then it becomes easier to understand why women may not be applying for these roles, or even finding them on their job search.

On surface level, this is a relatively easy fix, with these same online tools often presenting alternative verbiage and ways in which to better tailor the advert to encourage a more diverse mix of applicants. But it speaks to a broader message about how we advertise the broader financial industry, and how our own assumptions and bias can feed into this.

If designers aren’t careful, even chatbots can reinforce gender stereotypes or promote discriminatory behaviours. For instance, whilst Alexa and Siri are by default female voices, those used in the financial services are often male.

Our own assumptions and bias inevitably feed into our work life, but by being aware of these we can stop this from translating into things like chatbots and job adverts, and the broader perception of the industry.

Of course, gender diversity is not the only area of representation that the pensions and financial services industries struggle with. But the important message of looking closer at the real issue and barriers facing minorities in the industry still holds true.

It’s brilliant then to see the launch of campaigns such as the Classroom to Boardroom initiative, run by Entrepreneurs in Action and led by Redington, which are committed to looking at the real barriers that are preventing some minorities from being better represented in the industry, and working in collaboration with others to solve the issues at the core.

This initiative will see a range of organisations working together with more than 25 black students from schools across South London to actively find ways to increase application opportunities.

People stating that they have not received a diverse mix of candidates shouldn’t be good enough anymore. Looking to proactively support minorities, by exploring the reasons behind the lack of diverse applicants, is crucial if we want to advertise the pensions industry as one that is inclusive and open to all. Even if it is one job advert at a time, past perceptions can and should be broken.

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