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Attraction and retention of mid-senior women in financial services

  • Publish Date: Posted over 1 year ago
  • Author:by Andrew Mackay

On the 19th of January, we welcomed over 60 talent acquisition and HR professionals from across the financial services space to discuss strategies to improve the attraction and retention of mid-senior female talent within the market. We heard from Laura Blaxland, Talent Acquisition Senior Manager at Fidelity Investments and Elizabeth Willetts, Founder of Investing in Women, and it was a fantastic and informative session.

The rationale behind this event is that we, as talent professionals, are acutely aware of both the internal demand for greater diversity at senior level and the practical reality and challenges of a lack of candidate depth to be recruited.

Using the gender pay gap as a metric, it is clear and obvious that women are not reaching the same career potential as their male counterparts, and there is a clear window where women fall behind, and some very common causes as to why.

This creates a knock-on effect that, when hiring at mid-senior level (£90,000-150,000+), the talent pool of female candidates who have the skills and experience to compete with their male counterparts is very shallow and the ability to deliver diverse slates of candidates, and ultimately hire female talent is diminished.

The current landscape:

What are the solutions?

Mid-senior female talent, especially those with children, need and demand flexibility from an employer to balance work and parenting. This traditionally was challenging or sometimes impossible to achieve with a five day in-office culture. The shift post-COVID to hybrid working and the increase in men taking on more childcare responsibilities has allowed for greater potential to achieve a balance.

The principle options that fall within the “flexible working” umbrella are:

  • Hybrid 3/2

  • Fully remote

  • Part-time

  • Job share

  • Term time

  • 5 Days in 4

The primary reasons for flexible working to be desired are:

  • Child care – school runs/holidays/after-school needs

  • Physical health and mental health– some health challenges can impact the ability to commute and/or affect the ability to work in an office environment

  • Preferred working patterns – larks vs night owls

  • Increase in pet owners during and post lockdown

  • Neurodiverse candidates that work better in quiet environments/homes.

  • One strategy that has allowed those with career breaks to return to the workforce is a Returner Scheme.

What is a Returner Scheme, and how can you ensure its success?

“Female talent not necessarily hard to find, but can be hard to move” – Laura Blaxland

The primary role of a Returner Scheme is to facilitate and support those who have had a career break (typically 2yr+) re-join the workforce, often on a 6-month fixed term contract initially, with 95% of those being offered and taking permanent positions.

The biggest barrier is the attraction phase. It takes a lot for a woman to apply for a job, and typically women will seek to tick 80%+ of the “desired skillset” before applying, so if they do apply, there is a lot of thought that has gone into it.

Ensuring the right language is used in a role profile, the advert is not laden with too much technical language and the requirements are clear and limited to a small number of points will increase attraction.

During the interview process, it is essential to ensure there is a diverse panel of interviewers and that feedback is given quickly, clearly and in detail. Additionally, focusing on transferable skills and what can be trained in a 6-12 month window allows for candidates to be seen as a whole, and training requirements can be identified and built into the onboarding and development of that role.

The biggest upside of embracing flexible hiring models is increased loyalty and retention. This is primarily because it provides balance that is the key priority. The lack of alternative options in the current market leads to employees staying with firms longer and therefore gaining more promotion opportunities - and driving gender balance at a senior level.

Barriers to increasing opportunities that would benefit mid-senior women

“A primary objection to flexible working requests is that it will open the flood gates and everyone will want it” – Elizabeth Willets

It is prudent to highlight that not all roles and industries lend themselves to flexibility, such as fully remote. Financial services is one of those, as the culture is built around collaboration, quick decision making to respond to market changes and learning by osmosis from senior leaders.

Traditional views from hiring managers are a significant barrier. However, these can be overcome by highlighting the benefits of a diverse hire. Examples to overcome objections can be:

  • Returners are immediately available

  • It is easier to find two people with complementary skills in a job share capacity than one that has all the skills but cannot be found

  • Skills needed now that are going to be obsolete in 5-10 years’ time. Focus on future proofing skills and transferable ability


The overwhelming theme that came out of the event is to improve the attraction and retention of mid-senior women in financial services, the key is to embrace the opportunities it offers.

This starts at the top of the firm, with visible senior stakeholders taking ownership of delivering diverse hiring and empowering hiring managers to lean into the process.

Tailored support is needed from the beginning of the process, this needs to be consistent and continue throughout the attraction, onboarding and initial period of employment to allow people to fulfil their potential.

What can be done to improve mid-senior female attraction?

  • Improve the hiring process to be more open to flexible working

  • Ensure advertising and engagement is done in a sympathetic way, and time is given to allow women to consider and make an application which may take longer than men to do

  • Ringfenced headcount for diverse hiring and ensuring diverse hiring for roles are allocated within the budget and protected

  • External search conducted on a retained or exclusive basis with longer timescales to allow recruiters to engage broader talent

  • Visibility of senior female role models and active engagement of future talent from Day 1. You cannot be what you cannot see.

What can be done to improve mid-senior female retention?

  • Employee benefits are key. Family-friendly policies such as enhanced paternity leave, designated family days in addition to traditional leave for unseen issues that arise, open to all that also allows annual leave to be protected to ensure proper breaks and the ability to recharge

  • C-Suite buy-in is essential. Having diverse hiring as a key performance metric for senior management and tracking performance against targets on a regular basis

  • Hiring for future needs, looking past specific technical requirements and viewing the person as a whole

  • Targeted support for those returning from a break. Regular review meetings with managers and HR, “buddy” systems of others on the cohort, or previous scheme members, clear communication in expectations in the role and respecting the requirements of the individual and not applying pressure to flex to “traditional” hours or needs during busy periods.

Should you wish to speak further on any of these topics or how a recruitment partner can improve outcomes in mid-senior hiring, do reach out to speak further by contacting me at