The banking industry is a bastion of privilege.
It is an industry blasted more than others for catering to the haves more than the have-nots. However, there is a more subtle realm of privilege that's also dangerous — one invisible to those who benefit from it and all too glaringly obvious to those who do not.
Male bankers suffer from this blind spot, and as a result, are unknowingly benefiting from the oppression of their female colleagues.
To be sure, privilege is not about individuals being bad or taking advantage of others. Rather, privilege is about entire systems favoring some groups over others. We, women and men, are all privileged in some way — be it class, race, orientation and/or education. The list goes on. But in banking, male privilege occurs because the gender has never experienced the same system as a woman. Here, dear male bankers, is what you need to know.
That's in addition to research showing women are more likely to be interrupted than men. Worse, women are interrupted even more often when we are perceived to be in power. In fact, women who have battled to secure a seat at the conference table are able to voice their contribution only a quarter of the time, as men tend to dominate 75% of the conversation, according to research from Brigham Young University and Princeton.
Just a reminder, having a seat at the conference table is not the same as having a voice.
Despite being half of the population, women are not given equal representation in banking in print, on the conference stage, in executive leadership, in product development, in strategy or in the boardroom.
When men dominate the work discussion, they handicap the contribution of women and suppress the dissent and debate that are necessary to arrive at the best possible solution. This unconscious behavior is encouraged from the moment we all enter grade school, where boys get more classroom speaking time than do girls.
More troubling is how attempts to advocate for equal representation of women are seen as unorthodox and reactionary. Unequal representation is so normalized that any woman applying for a leadership role is regarded as aberrant or exceptional. According to a study from researchers at the University of Colorado, women who help promote other women are penalized on their performance reviews. However, men who value diversity actually get a bump up in their reviews.
Why? Because women are perceived to be selfish and self-interested when we advocate for someone who looks like us. By contrast, due to an unquestioned majority privilege, men are not penalized for supporting those who look like them.
The unconscious bias list goes on: from privilege of appearance, to safety, to practical clothing to health care.
When women do rise to leadership positions in this industry, it's exceptional: Not only are they incredibly talented and visionary, but they are an exception to the rule. However, by calling them an exception, we diminish the contribution of other women in the industry who have not yet navigated the climb to the top of the executive hill. This is our quandary: There are so few women at the helm that by drawing attention to the accomplishment we erase the hard work of other women in the industry.
And yet we must call attention to the exception. We must call attention to privilege that goes unrecognized and unchanged. Pointing out the inequality is the first step to consciously setting aside that default privilege.
It is time for the industry leadership to take note that the privilege they have unconsciously exercised for so long limits the scope, scale and speed at which the financial industry can evolve and expand.
It is time to set privilege aside because it takes up so much space at the table. Instead, give its seat to the women who dedicate their careers to improving the industry. Better yet, make room for their voices to be heard.
Ghela Boskovichis the director of global business development for Zafin and global ambassador and founder of FemTechGlobal. She can be reached @GhelaBoskovich.
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 Mary Jo White and Sheila Bair, and visit American Banker's Women in Banking page.