Women in credit – a view from the basement meeting room

Stories about gender inequality at work, pay differentials based on gender and sexual harassment accusations have dominated the media in the last few months. There has rightly been outrage about allegations of hostesses being harassed at the Presidents Club Dinner but there has also been positive news, with some sports reviewing how women are portrayed and some major corporations tackling pay inequality.

But what is it really like working as a woman in credit. I have been working in and around financial services for more than 20 years now, in credit since 2011, and some things have undoubtedly changed for the better. Unfortunately there are still times when it seems that we are firmly rooted in the past.

I am talking about attitudes here rather than major issues like discrimination or harassment. In that sense, I have been fortunate.

When I first joined the financial services world, at almost every meeting I went to I was the only woman in a room full of grey-haired men in grey suits. For some reason, it was always grey suits and white shirts, usually in a basement meeting room. These days, most meetings are much more balanced in terms of gender and age. And mercifully there are fewer grey suits.

In fact, on a day-to-day basis, the vast majority of people I come into contact with at work treat everyone in exactly the same way, regardless of seniority, age, gender or ethnicity. The things that matter are knowledge, understanding and getting results. My opinions are listened to and I feel respected.

I know that personally I am fortunate. A quick glance across the consumer credit sector shows that it is far from perfect yet. There are still organisations, and individuals, which appear to be struggling a bit with life in the 21st Century.

I still occasionally come across those rooms full of men in grey suits where attitudes to women are patronising at best, behaviour can be condescending and the overall effect leans towards being insulting. There continue to be men who automatically assume they know best, when I actually know far more about the issue being discussed. It can be uncomfortable at times but is more likely to be simply irritating.

I am not saying that women get it right all the time. I have seen some pretty appalling behaviour from women in the workplace as well.

In an ideal world, everyone would be treated the same way in the workplace. Pay and promotion would be based entirely on merit. Bullying and sexist behaviour would be a thing of the past.

But attitudes and behaviour can be quite ingrained and difficult to change. That is why initiatives like the Women in Credit Awards are important. The Awards will give more women across the sector the recognition they deserve and, in the process, help to change some of those old-fashioned views and behaviours that can be obstacles for many talented women.

Helen McCarthy- Head of Policy, CFA