The second-charge sector and the financial industry in the main, has historically been perceived to be a man’s world.
The female presence in the market over the last ten years however appears to be on the up with a more noticeable female presence in not just admin positions but also in managerial roles.
So is the second-charge sector no longer male dominated? And are firms consciously trying to seek out the female touch?
Recruiting more females into senior positions has been on the Government’s agenda for some time.
In 2011, Lord Evan Mervyn Davies, the former trade minister and chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank, published the Lord Davies Review. The report set the top FTSE 100 firms the target of having 25% of their board made up of females by 2015, up from the 12.5% in 2011.
The next biggest 250 companies were also encouraged to employ more female directors.
At the time of the report’s publication, Lord Davies stated: “This is not about aiming for a specific figure and is not just about promoting equal opportunities but it is about improving business performance. There is growing evidence to show that diverse boards are better boards, delivering financial out-performance and stock market growth.”
The latest statistics show the top FTSE 100 companies have increased their female board presence significantly to 22.8%, as of October 2014.
The wider UK may be working towards gender equality, but what about the second-charge sector?
Nicola Georgiou, managing director of Freedom Finance, has worked in the industry for 10 years and says there has undoubtedly been a rise in senior women.
She says. “There have always been a great deal of women in customer facing and underwriting roles, but the only senior women I was aware of back then tended to be in HR or marketing. This has changed significantly.”
Georgiou says she has been keen to develop women at board and senior management level within her business and their team today is made up of half men and half women – something she says hasn’t been done to satisfy any quota.
“I’m not in favour of a quota-based approach,” she says. “What I am very much in favour of is spotting female talent and allowing women to grow their careers at the same time as having children.”
“I believe that with the right support from employers, women can have both a career and a family. I have three daughters and am proud to say that all three of them have promising careers ahead.”
Georgiou says having a balance of both men and women on its senior team has been hugely important to the success of the business.
“The different dynamic that a truly varied team provides has given us alternative perspectives and ideas, which have consistently led to growth, even in a challenging economic environment,” she says.
Lucy Hodge, director of Vantage Finance, says while the sector is still fairly male dominated there is more equilibrium than there once was.
“There are more women in senior roles compared with ten years ago and many businesses have a really good mix within their teams,” she says.
Climbing the ladder
The quota of females within firms may be on the increase but what about the number of females in senior positions?
Marie Grundy, managing director of V Loans and the representative for the industry on the board of the Association of Finance Brokers, says although there are a large number of women working within the second charge industry and her own firm, there is evidently a shortage of women at director level within the sector.
She says this is often visible at industry events, designed specifically for industry business leaders.
“Pre-credit crunch there was a greater female presence within the sector,” she says. “Naturally the contraction of the market led to a reduction in senior roles and although we are gradually seeing more females being appointed into senior management and board level positions this is still disproportionate compared to the number of men occupying these positions.”
The high number of females working in lower scale jobs however may provide the industry with a new wave of female directors in future years.
“There are a large number of females working in underwriting roles which provides the industry with an ideal platform to identify those women who have the potential to progress into senior management and director level positions, as well as attract more female talent into the industry,” says Grundy.
She adds: “It has been pleasing to see an increase in the number of women recruited to key positions within firms.
“These women are excellent role models for those who have aspirations to develop their careers and I am hopeful this will encourage more female employees within our sector to progress into senior management roles and beyond.”
Steve Walker, managing director of Promise Solutions, says his firm is predominantly made up of female staff, something which he says has happened organically over the last several years.
“We have a predominately female staff here,” he says. “It is something which has evolved over the years. We made a conscious decision not to go after the young aggressive sales types looking to hit targets for high bonuses, as this is not the way the industry is going.
“I would much rather employ someone who has a few years under their belt and can empathise with the customer and understand their needs – offering what is appropriate and not what they are targeted to do.”
Tracey Bailey, head of residential underwriting at Blemain Group, says the industry has been guilty of being perceived as aman’s world in the past.
But she says: “This is gradually changing and fitting in is more about an individual’s personality and characteristics, rather than their gender.
“It’s a very hard working industry but also very sociable, with lenders and brokers working extremely closely to provide excellent customer outcomes. “Regardless of whether you’re male or female, if you want to join the world of secured loans you have to be prepared to be very goal orientated and driven. If you have the personality and skills to make a difference, there’s no reason you shouldn’t succeed and be recognised.”
A Changing World
As the second charge market gains an increased female presence – how is this changing the sector and firms’ thinking on things such as corporate hospitality?
Trips to the golf course, football and other male orientated venues have been commonplace over the last ten years but Georgiou says this is starting to change.
She says: “Leading female figures from the industry like Maeve Ward at Shawbrook Bank and Tracey Bailey at Blemain have subtly recognised this shift by starting to organise industry events in the form of spa days as an alternative to the traditional golf days that the industry is notorious for.
“That’s not to say you won’t find women at the golf days or plenty of men at the spas, but it’s clear that what was once a very male dominated industry is changing and the balance is shifting.”
Bailey says there are a lot of women in the industry now that are unsung heroes.
She says: “The industry itself has traditionally been male dominated – and to an extent it still is – with most principals and directors of businesses being men. However, more women are now emerging as heads of business which is really positive.
“There are also an increasing number of women in senior management positions, running the main operation, which is a real step towards us seeing a future of more female executives. After all, they say behind every good man stands a great woman.”