I love my brother. He lives in Dublin, so we don't see each other very often, and when we do we always end up arse-drunk, our arms around each other, telling each other how we are secretly the two best children in the family. But that doesn't mean we always see eye to eye on everything, and feminism is one of those things. "I don't understand why everyone can't just chill out," he says. "Things are getting better all the time. I know they're not perfect, but think how far it's all come along. In a few years, everything will be more or less equal."
If you have a family, you'll know that when it comes to things like this, it's better to change the subject.
But it's mornings like this – mornings when another depressing survey or study lands on my desk and I'm asked to write about it – is when I don't want to change the subject. I want to charge into his fancy office, kick him off his fancy chair, and show him the numbers. I want to say: You need to believe me. There are some scenarios that are not getting better. And you, as someone who works with the financial industry, need to acknowledge this.
In 2012, 66 per cent of women in the financial sector admitted to believing being female was bad for their career. In four years, that number has reduced by one per cent. One per-fucking-cent. While we are supposedly in an age of enlightenment – when books on feminism quickly become New York Times bestsellers, and every other day a celebrity is being fist-bumped for a neat, pro-woman soundbite – the financial sector remains deeply sexist. 92 per cent of women found that, despite years of publicity, little had improved in their workplace. Perhaps most crushingly of all, one investment banker said she used her own career as a warning to her 17 year old daughter not to enter the world of finance.
If you want to get to a real senior position, you have to become buddies with the senior managers, who are still all male. These men constantly hold meetings together, travel together, eat together… They need you to fit in
For his book Swimming With Sharks, Joris Luyendijk interviewed 200 workers within the financial sector, and in doing so tried to investigate how important a role gender played in the 2008 financial crash. Luyendijk notes the difference between older and younger female workers, saying that while younger women viewed finance as a meritocracy, older women tended to roll their eyes at the notion.
"There is a glass ceiling in finance, but not in a formal sense," said one veteran interviewee. "If you want to get to a real senior position, you have to become buddies with the senior managers, who are still all male. These men constantly hold meetings together, travel together, eat together… They need you to fit in. You need to play golf, blend in with the casual banter… When a woman joins such a team, its' dynamics change. This is a very important barrier.”
While it might be tempting to shrug at this, we forget just how much our lives are affected by the endless, sprawling domino pattern of the economy. The corrupted financial system that brought the world to its knees in 2008 may not have been necessarily saved by more women in the boardroom, but, as Luyendijk says: more diverse boardrooms make better decisions because the risk of “groupthink” is lower. As long as the Google image search result for 'banker' is a white guy lighting his cigar off some burning money (I'm not exaggerating here) then the financial sector will continue to be on society's long list of problems.
And we need it to change by more than one per cent every four years.