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Women in banking

Despite a widespread acceptance that gender should be no barrier to career progression, women continue to be under-represented at senior levels across the UK, particularly in the banking sector.

Our research, sponsored by RBS, highlights that there is still an ingrained belief that women in banking face more barriers than their male counterparts in their career progression.

What we found 

Barriers to progression

A third of women starting in their banking career said they already believe there are barriers to their career progression. To attract more female graduates into banking, the industry needs to provide roles with a clear progression route. Graduate training schemes, networking and mentoring will help to create a talent pipeline.


Only 22% of all respondents agreed that 'people here are promoted based on merit alone'.  In contrast almost half agreed that 'in my organisation, promotion is determined by who you know'. This indicates banks need to develop more effective systems of performance management.  

The glass ceiling

Although women at all levels still identify a glass ceiling, their male colleagues are far less likely to recognise it (overall 26% of men compared to 41% of women).

Banks need to measure diversity instead of focusing on quotas. Organisations keen to increase the flow of female talent into senior positions can set targets for recruiting, training and promoting women. They should also track their retention rates for women returning from maternity leave or career breaks.

Career confidence

Just 29% of female senior managers expect to reach board level in the next 10 years. It is possible that banks could make use of sponsorship, coaching and mentoring all of which can play an important role in raising women's aspirations and self-confidence.

Our previous report on Ambition and gender in the workplace may also be of interest regarding the gender gap in confidence.

Lack of female role models

41% of women felt that a lack of role models was a barrier to progression in their organisation and just under 50% felt that a stronger female presence at board level would be a benefit to their organisation. Additionally women indicated that they'd like to have more female role models with families and children, who had not sacrificed their personal life to get ahead.

Banking employers have an opportunity to raise the voice and visibility of successful female leaders across their organisation. They can actively seek out women in senior roles and help to build their reputation and profile internally.

Flexible working

Both men and women felt that banks need to introduce or improve flexible working to make a difference to women's career progression.

There is a large cultural problem around working practices in banking. Our survey identified a cultural resistance to flexible and remote working, even when schemes are in place.

Links and resources