Women in Finance

Today is International Women’s Day and as this year will be focusing on inclusion, we are going to take a look at the role of women in the finance sector.

We also have the privilege of speaking first hand with our own Finance and Operations Director, Annabel Ah-Lim for her experiences of being a successful woman in the UK finance sector.

In recent years the UK finance sector has taken significant steps towards gender equality. Though changes are evident there still appears to be a need to highlight continuous advocacy and action within the sector.

The finance sector has seen a gradual and notable increase in female representation which is, of course, great progress. But a 2023 report by Statista showed that it is still a heavily male dominated environment, with 568,000 men in full time employment compared to a much lower number of 381,000 full time roles taken by women.

By acknowledging the current landscape and encouraging inclusivity we can unlock the full potential of women in finance and drive the industry forward.

The gender pay gap – time for action

One of the standout issues within the UK finance sector is the persistent gender pay gap. Despite efforts to bridge the divide, recent statistics show that women still earn less on average than their male counterparts. Data taken from the Financial Times shows the gender pay gap for full time female employees in the financial and insurance sector stood at 22.7% during 2022-2023.

Whilst this figure represents some improvement on previous years it highlights the need for proactive measures by employers to address this disparity.

Closing the gender pay gap requires a holistic approach, transparent policies, fair recruitment processes, and targeted initiatives to support women’s career progression.

Prioritising pay equality will allow the financial sector to cultivate a more inclusive workplace where all employees, regardless of gender are compensated fairly for their contributions.

Women in Senior Leadership roles

As a whole it seems that women in the UK financial sector are facing challenges accessing leadership positions. While there is slow progress being made in increasing female representation at entry and mid-level positions, the number of women in senior leadership roles remains disproportionally low at 35% according to the Women in Finance Charter 2022.

We spoke to our very own Annabel Ah-Lim, Group Finance and Operations Director here at Touch Financial to get her experience and journey to becoming a senior leader within the UK Finance Sector.


Why did you get into finance?

“I like numbers! I did accounting in school and I really enjoyed that. Then when I was around 18/19 I was wondering what to do, people were saying “Accounting is a good profession. Every company needs an accountant” It was also affordable to do the relevant exams and professional qualifications. So, I thought I’ll try that. . I feel I’ve been really lucky to find something I have a passion for and make a career out if it”

What has been your journey since then within the finance sector?

“I trained as an accountant within a practice. After qualifying, i considered whether to stay in auditing and probably work for a larger organisation. But, I fancied a change and had some exposure to forensic accounting. That’s when I found SFP where I currently work I have been with SFP since 2006. So that’s 18 years this year. During that period, I have changed roles quite a lot and I’ve moved through the ranks up to Director level. I have moved across various areas of the business from the restructuring side to the Brokerage and have been involved in the internal finance and operations.

My roles have been varied within finance, operations and growth management including my current role as Operations Director.”

That’s been quite a journey for you with SFP. How did you find that journey and progression? Was it a natural progression? Or did you set out for those roles?

“I think I was interested in understanding all aspects of the Group. They offered opportunities for something different and learning new things. So, I’d say it has been a very natural progression of where my skill set was going to benefit the business”

It’s great to hear that you’ve had such a positive experience and have been able to progress not only for the benefit of the business but also for the benefit of your own interests within that business.

What achievements are you most proud of in your career?

“I’m most proud of my progression. But, I have to say that’s not just me. I’ve been very supported during that period by the founders, Simon and Danial (Directors, SFP Group).” I’ve also had the opportunity to work with different people during that time and that brings new dimensions / perspective to each role.

Do you feel you have faced any challenges as a woman progressing within the finance sector?

“Personally no. I think everyone faces challenges in their career. I have never felt that I have faced any more problems than anyone else male or female. I haven’t faced any challenges in my career purely because I am female. I have always felt valued and supported.

I think one universal challenge women face regardless of sector is balancing having children and a career. We can tend to feel when we have a career that we are not there enough for our children. You are constantly having to juggle everything sometimes to your own detriment. Working for an organisation that can support women and understand this balancing act I believe plays a huge part in being able to be successful both at home and in the workplace.”

Holding a Senior leadership position, what do you think makes a good leader?

“Listening! Learning to listen to other people. Everybody has their own little quirks and ways of thinking. You need to consider this when trying to work together to achieve a goal that everybody can relate to. It’s not just a goal of the business, it’s ensuring that everybody is bought into that goal. At the end of the day as leaders we just want to make everyone’s life easy. Nobody wants to make anyone’s life miserable at work.”

What advice would you give to women in or aiming for a leadership position?

“That would apply to every leader not just women! Don’t get to the top and think that’s it, you’re done. You’ve reached whatever title and you’ve done all the hard work then just sit back. You need to be constantly proactive, constantly looking ahead and setting a good example. Whoever you’re managing will look at you and if they see you are working hard and you’re still getting your hands dirty and mucking in, then they will want to do the same.”

It seems clear that to address the issue of enhancing the experience of women working within the finance sector and lower senior leadership representation is in the hands of individual employers. Employers that are actively promoting gender diversity within their organisations and in leadership positions with open development opportunities and mentorship will be the organisations that truly benefit from unlocking the full potential of their talent pool. This will allow them to drive innovation, growth and competitiveness in the long term.


Looking ahead: Positive change

While the road to gender equality in the UK finance sector may be long and challenging, it is a journey worth pursuing. As we have found from speaking with Annabel, female inclusivity can absolutely be achieved with the encouragement and backing of the right employers. Employers who support diversity, inclusivity and promote equal pay within their organisations. Employers who are willing to promote and support female representation across all levels of employment and foster a positive workplace culture can make great improvements to the sector as a whole.

It’s encouraging to know that there are inclusive employers out there actively pushing this positive change which will allow the sector to benefit from the full potential of female representation.

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