To Advance Women in Banking, Mandate Paid Family Leave

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My daughter began her career on Wall Street last year as a sales trader in equities. I am proud of her accomplishments and proud of her for pursuing a career in the financial services industry. I am 100% invested in her future and I want her to enjoy the same opportunities that I have had throughout my career. However, I am also aware of the challenges women face in this industry.

The disparity between the number of men and women on trading floors throughout the financial services industry is startling. Despite the facts that 50% of the U.S. population is female and over 50% of the undergraduate student body at the schools we target for interns are female, most trading floors on Wall Street are occupied by considerably fewer women than men. While these statistics have improved in recent years, it is clear the financial services industry needs to work harder to attract and retain a diverse employee base.

Studies suggest that women in financial services are more likely to leave their firms or pursue their career aspirations less aggressively than their male counterparts, despite embarking on their careers with lofty and far-reaching ambitions. Many have linked this to the difficulties in balancing work pressures with family demands. This leads to an important question: how do we support and retain the women we are employing today to ensure a broader pool of female leaders in the future?

Ensuring parity in pay and a clear path to leadership positions are, of course, essential. Further, we need to create a flexible workplace environment that is conducive to working parents on Wall Street. This begins with parental leave. The U.S. is the only developed country in the world without mandatory paid family leave for new parents. Most countries ensure at least three months of paid leave for new mothers and many give fathers benefits as well. By contrast, in the U.S. the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Yes, unpaid. This is simply not good enough. While many financial services firms offer paid leave to new parents, making this compulsory would send a strong message of support to future female leaders across our industry.

Moreover, we need to offer flexible working arrangements wherever possible. Having children should not be the equivalent of career stalemate. This means promoting an environment where mothers feel supported in their workplace and empowered to progress in their careers. Taking these steps will not only benefit women. It will strengthen each organization tenfold because the firms that embrace change and take proactive steps to attract diverse perspectives and disparate views will consistently deliver superior results.

It is incumbent upon us all to consider these facts and pave the way for positive change. Let's make it our goal to encourage the hiring and facilitate the retention of qualified women in the financial services industry. And let's act now, please. Let's not leave this to our daughters' generation.

Mike Meyer is the head of global credit and U.S. fixed income at RBC Capital Markets.

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 David Casper, Sam Maule and Yolande Piazza, and visit American Banker's Women in Banking page.

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