What is at stake in fighting global climate change is nothing short of a threat to the human condition. An overwhelming global consensus of subject matter experts have published repeated warnings of how even minor changes in ocean temperatures have an impact on our planet if we do nothing to reverse the damage.
Yet, despite all of the documented evidence, the very existence of climate change is still debated by some. Those who deny that climate change is taking place or that humans and fossil fuels greatly contribute to the rising global temperatures argue: the science is flawed. They say this is a natural cycle and the data collected doesn't support the theory that ocean temperatures are rising. Many of these arguments, especially in the U.S., focus on the individual and business costs of complying with government regulations aimed at reducing the ecological effects.
In a similar fashion, the reality of gender bias and discrimination is also greatly debated in the workplace. Some in banking believe the situation is greatly exaggerated or non-existent. They argue that we — as a society — are too sensitive and too politically correct, and that everyone already has an equal chance based on their talent and work ethic. In many people's eyes, it's just not a big enough problem.
The reality, however, is gender bias and discrimination exists in every workplace to some degree. Yes, even at your company.
To be honest, I once fell into the "I can't be bothered" camp on this topic. I was too focused on my own career and my assigned project deadlines to give the issue much thought or attention.
Fortunately and fortuitously, I was asked by the innovation unit at Swift to co-author a study on gender diversity in fintech last year. The findings: shocking. Seeing and hearing about the number of women that drop out of the industry as they work their way up the corporate ladder forced me to look into the mirror and reflect on my own attitude. What I found was lacking.
I didn't participate in overt discrimination. I wasn't some "Wolf of Wall Street" jerk who partied with clients at strip clubs after hours. But I wasn't a saint either. I could think of multiple times where a group of men joked about "young talent" when the female left the conference room or the investment pitch stage. I knew the situation was wrong and I didn't do anything to address it most of the time.
Revelations about my own lack of awareness led me to want to raise awareness with others. In June 2015, I started to interview women leaders in the industry — banking and technology company executives, startup founders, venture capitalists and women entering the industry fresh out of college — and I published their stories on a blog. Over the many months and more than 250 interviews with women across the globe, I came to see their patterns of discrimination fall into three main categories:
It comes with the territory. This was the most commonly reported experience. Many women said they had experienced some form of discrimination or bias at times, but for the most part, they said they've been too busy or too focused on their career to be bothered by it.
These women said the frequency of discrimination or bias wasn't high. However, many acknowledged that gender bias has occurred in the course of their careers and that they considered it something that "comes with the territory" in banking.
But it shouldn't come with the territory.
This is the same as saying hazing is simply an innocent part of the fraternity or sorority tradition at our universities. It's not. As adults we should know better. Enough already.
The ultimate betrayal. Other women said they experienced gender bias not from male co-workers, but from other women — often times from women in a position of authority over them. According to some of the interviewees, these situations were fuelled by an attitude of "I had to struggle to get where I'm at, so you should have to go through this challenge also."
There is no justification for this kind of discrimination. One interviewee agreed when she quoted Madeline Albright's famous mantra: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
The dark ages. I have come across cases of extreme bias, including in LinkedIn responses to two of the interviews I ran. The women profiled were personally attacked in the comments associated with the posting on the social media site for professionals. Thankfully, these episodes have been the minority; however, it's still shocking and disappointing, and unfortunately, they aren't a one-off situation.
Google any op-ed on gender diversity and scroll down to the comments section. There, you'll find sexist comments. I know this is where trolls live; however, they represent an ugly undercurrent of a real part of our work place. Thankfully, there are also individuals who have the courage not to let the commentary go on without a counterpoint argument based on facts.
Sure, some will still argue that in banking, we hire, train and promote individuals based on their potential and talent — like we should — and that things are just fine and maybe better than they've ever been.
However, similar to climate change, the evidence collected by the majority of studies doesn't support this argument. We need a bona fide climate change movement in the financial services industry to put an end to the centuries-old sexism.
Instead of sweeping gender bias under the rug or asking yourself and others to "suck it up," seek out the inequalities and unfair practices and fix them. Volunteer to mentor young men and women. Talk with them about the topic and help them to become the next leaders we desperately need in our industry. Encourage young women with the interest and aptitude to pursue studies in STEM. As a father of three daughters, I've personally witnessed the power of positive and realistic encouragement. Most importantly, when you witness bias of any kind, address it immediately.
Most of us in the industry aren't intentionally exacerbating the situation and we are all continually growing as leaders. But we can do better. We can take action.
Sam Maule is director and senior practice lead of digital and fintech at NTT Data Americas and creator of FemTech Leaders. He can be reached @sammaule.
Editor's note: This post is part of an ongoing series looking at gender and diversity issues in banking and finance. For more on this subject, see previous posts in this series from Sheila Bair, Ghela Boskovich and David Casper, and visit American Banker's Women in Banking page.