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Women in UK Banking Leadership

Urgent progress is needed to ensure gender equity in the boardrooms of British Banks remains ‘within reach’

Analysis shows that UK Banking & Capital Markets (BCM) firms are making slow progress towards gender equity in leadership across three critical areas, with the risk that representation in both the senior leadership and next generation cohorts will fall into decline by 2031. To avoid a vicious cycle, more must be done by the sector to build on the gains made so far.

In 2019, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services launched “Within Reach” with the intention of sparking conversations around the progress made by financial services institutions (FSIs) to achieve gender equity in leadership roles. In 2022, this US study was extended to include women in financial services leadership roles around the world. Our first global report1 was published in May 2022 and threw a wider spotlight on the challenges global FSIs faced in achieving gender equity at the highest levels of their organisations.

One year later, in June 2023, the team returned to update their analysis, interrogating a larger dataset of more than 68,000 global FSIs2. The insights presented here largely draw on a UK subset of this data, covering 6,629 UK FSIs and, specifically, 1,197 firms defined in the study as UK banking, capital markets or payments (referred to collectively as “BCM”). This piece looks at the progress made over the year 2021 to 2022 as well as the work still needed within BCM and wider UK financial services to address the enduring boardroom gender gap in our nations’ FS institutions.

In 2023, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) intensified their focus on the issue of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), proposing regulated firms develop, maintain and disclose full D&I strategies, set specific gender representation targets, and report their progress3.  Addressing the barriers female professionals face as they seek to advance their careers in financial services remains then an area of vigorous debate, and our research comes in the wake of further work done by HM Treasury in the UK in support of its Women in Financial Services Charter4 (“the Charter”). Their latest analysis was published in March 2023 and is based on responses from 235 of its more than 400 signatories5.

To get under the skin of the issue, this piece draws both on our own findings as well as those of the Treasury to highlight progress made – and still needed – towards the goal of gender equity in UK BCM leadership, beginning with some global context.

As Figure 1 below shows, globally the proportion of women in FS C-Suite6 roles fell by 1.1% points in 2022, dropping back from 19.0% to 17.9%. This contrasts with small gains made in both the Senior Leadership7 and Next Generation8 cohorts in the same period, which together highlight stagnating progress at the broadest level. Notably the UK, together with France and China, posted improvements in all three dimensions in the same period. Nonetheless, despite posting modest year-on-year gains, the UK still lags average levels of female representation across the board, trailing markets like France and Singapore.

Figure 1: Proportion of Women at different leadership levels within FSIs, selected geographies, FY 2021-22

Source: Deloitte LLP analysis of BoardEx LLC data

Digging deeper, as Figure 2 shows, the UK faces a cross-industry challenge since no single FS sub-sector is close to approaching leadership gender parity. Insurance perhaps comes closest, tracking ahead of other sectors in the “Next Generation” and “Senior Leadership” cohorts by ~5% points. Nonetheless, insurers lag the banks and payment companies on C-Suite representation, though only by a very narrow margin. BCM also continues the trend from last year tracking above average in both the “C-Suite” and “Next Generation” cohorts, at 20% and 28% respectively. However, in Senior Leadership, only 21% of BCM roles are occupied by women currently, versus an industry average of 23%. This matters greatly, since Senior Leadership is a highly visible layer within institutions’ leadership structures and the de facto pipeline for future C-suite succession planning.

Figure 2: Proportion of Women at different levels of leadership in FSI, selected FS sectors, 2022

Source: Deloitte LLP analysis of BoardEx LLC data

As might be expected, there was little meaningful change over the 12 month period analysed here, with sub-100bps shifts in BCM results across all leadership cohorts. Clearly then, there still remains much progress to be made by UK BCM firms to achieve gender parity in leadership. Nevertheless, as past studies have shown, progress need not be linear. As reported in Deloitte’s Leadership, representation, and gender equity in financial services report9 published in November 2021, academic research from 201110 showed that achieving as little as 30% representation within a group can act as a ‘tipping point’, allowing the minority to enact meaningful change inside a larger crowd. In other words, once BCM firms reach this ‘tipping point’ in leadership diversity, change could meaningfully accelerate. And in the “Next Generation” cohort we see UK banks already within reach of this important milestone.

That same Deloitte study also called out evidence of what is referred to as a ‘multiplier effect’, where each woman added to the C-suite layer of an organisation helps to deliver an average 3x increase in the number of women in senior leadership roles in that same organisation11. Interestingly, Deloitte’s Women in the Boardroom study12 also found that firms with female representation in the C-suite had almost twice the number of women board members than those that did not.

So, while a 50:50 gender split in the C-suites of most UK banks and payments firms may still seem some way off, the sector continues to close in on the crucial 30% tipping point. Nonetheless, progress continues to be slow, and BCM leaders cannot afford to be complacent. Without further efforts progress towards the ‘tipping point’ – let alone parity – will continue to be a trudge rather than a sprint.

Naturally, the lack of gender balance across FS boardrooms is also of concern at a UK policy level. The aforementioned Women in Finance Charter was launched by HM Treasury in 2016 to support the progress of women into senior UK industry roles. As Figure 3 below shows, an analysis of the latest data reported by 235 Charter signatories shows that, across the three key sub-categories13 of UK Banking, Building Societies and Credit Unions, and Global and Investment Banking, the average proportion of women in senior management roles grew by almost one-third in the past seven years, from 26% in 2016 to 37% in 2022, and up from 34% in 2021. These results differ from those in the Deloitte study, being self-reported figures from a smaller pool of firms based on a different base methodology (i.e. the Treasury study looks at what it refers to as “senior management” rather than the three discrete cohorts identified in our analysis). Nonetheless, despite these variations, we nevertheless see consistent evidence of the need for further work to achieve gender equity in UK BCM leadership.

Figure 3: Progress towards senior management equality targets of UK banking service providers, 2016 vs. 2022

Source: Deloitte analysis of data from New Financial in their review of submissions by signatories to the Women in Finance Charter14

As Figure 3 above shows, the Treasury data helpfully splits BCM into its component parts. In 2022, UK Banking (39%) and Building Societies (43%) exceeded the latest BCM average target of 38% of women in senior management roles 2022. Nevertheless, only Building Societies achieved their own sub-sector target and there still remains a significant gender gap across BCM despite the gains made by these high-performing institutions. The data also highlights the widening gap that exists for investment banks between diversity achieved and targets set, which tripled in size from 3% in 2016 to 9% in 202215 showing just how much additional work is needed in certain sub-sectors of BCM to move the needle. Indeed, it was estimated that the Charter’s BCM signatories would need to add more than 2,500 women to their senior management ranks to achieve their individual gender equity goals. Of this, some 1,140 roles would need to be added to the ranks of the almost 11,000 female senior managers already employed by UK investment banks signed up to the Charter16. Additionally, since many of the Charter signatories are amongst the UK’s largest FSIs, much of the risk in hitting these important targets is now concentrated with a few top-tier institutions.

Despite these challenges, according to the Charter, progress was made last year with growth in women’s representation across all areas of UK financial services, which resumed after a brief lull in 2021. 71% of signatories said they had increased the proportion of women in senior leadership roles over the year (up from 60% in 2021), while 6% maintained 2021 levels, and 23% regressed, down from 34% the previous year. Taking the different proportions of employees in each sub-category into account, the average level of female representation across Charter signatories rose in 2022 to 35% having remained flat at 33% in 2021. Positively, the figure has edged further above the crucial 30% ‘tipping point’. Nonetheless, we still remain some way short of gender parity in FS at large and, as noted above, across BCM in particular. Two key factors may be continuing to slow the pace of progress.

Firstly, as noted in previous reports, furlough schemes related to the pandemic had a chilling effect on the global economy, protecting jobs but limiting career mobility, especially for women17. In 2021, as punishing lockdowns lifted, workers re-evaluated their career objectives triggering a spike in mobility dubbed ‘the great resignation’. This wave coincided with the normalisation of home working for many UK professionals as well as a stabilisation of the wider UK economy. It was hoped this would reinvigorate progress towards gender equity. Nonetheless, a more difficult economic outlook for UK businesses paired with moves by many financial services firms to get workers back into offices may now be blunting the effect.

It should also be noted that the Charter analysis found that only 39% of firms still striving to meet self-imposed boardroom gender targets were actually increasing female representation at senior levels fast enough to meet them. Likewise, while the increase in representation seen at FS-level from 33% in 2021 to 35% in 2022 should be welcomed, with only half of Charter signatories chasing a target of at least 40% there is a risk that firms simply “target the tipping point” rather than aiming for true gender parity in their senior leadership structures. If this indeed ends up being the case, with too many firms preoccupied with achieving rather than exceeding sub-50% targets, the additional effort needed to reach parity will be even harder to muster.

Figure 4: Women in Financial Services Leadership, UK BCM forecast, 2022 vs. 2031f

Source: Deloitte LLP analysis of BoardEx LLC data

As Figure 4 above illustrates, Deloitte is forecasting that, even by 2031, UK BCM firms will not have achieved the 30% ‘tipping point’ required for accelerated change, let alone being anywhere near true gender equity in leadership. The sector faces a significant challenge then, one shared in other areas of financial services too. As Heather Stockton, Deloitte Canada vice chair and Banking partner noted in our first global report published in 2022:

“Succession planning and retention issues may be the area to focus on for women in senior leadership roles. Opportunities to ascend to line of business leadership can be critical for retention and to avoid a reverse multiplier, meaning, for each woman that leaves a senior leadership role, is there a proportional percentage of women leaving from the next generation segment?”18

Hence, our consistent message to BCM firms is that merely creeping towards a 30% tipping point is not enough. For real change to manifest, banks must dig deeper. And in taking the purposeful steps required, they might begin by leveraging the Within Reach CARE framework (Collect, Assess, Report, Engage) that outlines a series of steps FSI leaders should consider to enact change19.

Figure 5: The Within Reach CARE framework (Collect, Assess, Report, Engage).

Source: Deloitte Center for Financial Services, “Advancing women leaders in the financial services industry, 2023 update: A global assessment

Figure 5 shows the four elements of the framework in more detail, which are:

1. Collect more data: Comprehensive data collection is an important tool for achieving gender equity. In the UK, employers with more than 250 employees are required by law20 to collect and publish gender pay gap data. This valuable data can be used to highlight blind spots, identify potential candidate programmes and monitor how they are working, allowing FSIs to concentrate resources where they matter most. In addition, while not required by law to do so, it would be beneficial for more UK organisations in the sub-250 employee bracket – representing the vast majority of UK enterprise – to make efforts to collect diversity data too so they can also reap the benefits.

2. Assess the data: Collection is only the start of the journey, and effective analysis requires firms to use their data to measure their performance against their objectives. It can also be helpful to benchmark findings against companies within the same industry and at a global or regional level to reveal leading practices and provide meaningful inputs when setting targets. Technology solutions can help generate insights faster and minimise unconscious bias in the data, leading to better and more actionable insights.

3. Report your progress: Reporting diversity information – internally and publicly – helps to boost transparency and enhance trust in data. In the UK, firms with more than 250 employees are required to disclose average gender salary and bonus gaps, both the median and average figures, together with the proportion of men and women receiving bonuses and how their staff break down by gender across each quartile of their organisation’s pay structure. This is a good start, but firms can go further. For example, reporting progress on diversity goals, to the board and the workforce as well as externally, can be important in making targets stick, increasing accountability and bolstering progress. It is also helpful to share clear metrics for success, which can in turn help firms track progress and create a more equitable environment. Finally, consider focusing on outcomes achieved rather than simply measuring activity and effort to drive a more goal-orientated mindset.

4. Engage with stakeholders: Finally, engage within and beyond your organisation around the results, and the outcomes measured, to demonstrate and amplify the firm’s commitment to gender diversity. This will help to foster engagement and help showcase an industry leading commitment to diversity. This can include measures such as encouraging allyship and sponsorship opportunities, linking performance expectations and measurement to diversity goals, creating opportunities to network – including building and operating women’s networks – as well as investing in more diverse succession planning.As our 2022 global report noted, firms that support transformational opportunities for women, even by creating non-traditional paths to leadership, can become highly sought-after employers. And, by transparently communicating with colleagues and the market on the importance of diversity, the actions they take to drive gender equity and the progress they have made, BCM firms will better position themselves to drive higher rates of retention in the future to the benefit of everyone.  Crucially, that same 2022 Deloitte report also found that when women experience a truly respectful and inclusive workplace culture, they are more engaged, productive, and loyal to their organisations. By doubling down on their efforts in key areas like recruitment, retention, promotion, culture change and investment in the women leaders of tomorrow, British banks can vault the symbolic 30% hurdle they are slowly approaching and forge ahead with renewed vigour towards the real finish line of gender parity.

 [i] Alison Rogish et al., Advancing more women leaders in financial services: A global report, Deloitte Insights, June 2022

[ii] For further details of our methodologies, including that used to calculate the forecast data presented in this blog, see Alison Rogish et al., Advancing women leaders in the financial services industry, 2023 update, Deloitte Insights, June 2023

[iii] FCA and PRA moving the dial on Diversity & Inclusion, Deloitte UK, October 2023.

[iv] See Women in Finance Charter (HM Treasury Policy Paper, March 2016)

[v] 2022 data sourced from Women in Finance Annual Review (New Financial, March 2023)

[vi] We define C-Suite as corporate leadership, including CEOs, CFOs, CMOs etc.

[vii] We define Senior Leadership as line-of-business leaders, division heads or regional leaders, typically 1–3 levels below the C-suite.

[viii] We define Next Generation as the wider pipeline of female talent within organisations, typically managers or equivalent titles below Senior Leadership.

[ix] Alison Rogish et al., Leadership, representation, and gender equity in financial services, Deloitte Insights, November 2022

[x] Lissa Lamkin Broome, John M. Conley, and Kimberly D. Krawiec, Does Critical Mass Matter? Views from theBoardroom, Seattle University Law Review, 2011

[xi] For clarity, the ‘multiplier effect’ impacts firms at an organisational level only. It is not believed to influence at sector, country or regional levels. Hence, appointments at one firm will not impact their wider sector in the aggregate.

[xii] Deloitte, Women in the boardroom—5th edition, March 2017

[xiii] Note, the banking figures shown here are based on data from 76 UK institutions (30 UK Banks, 31 Global/Investment Banks, and 15 Building Societies/Credit Unions)

[xiv] 2016 data sourced from Women in Finance Annual Review 2017, New Financial, March 2018; 2022 data sourced from Women in Finance Annual Review, New Financial, March 2023

[xv] This is based on a comparison of HM Treasury’s data for Global/Investment Banks and the UK BCM average in 2016 (i.e., 23% vs. 26%) and in 2022 (i.e., 28% vs. 37%)

[xvi] In Women in Finance Annual Review, New Financial, March 2023, the authors estimate that their signatories in UK Financial Services sector would need to add 4,221 women leaders in order to meet their targets. Of this total, 61% (n=2,574) would need to be employed in BCM roles comprising 30% in UK Banking, 27% in Global/Investment Banking and 4% in Building Societies.

[xvii] Fawcett Society, The Coronavirus Crossroads, Equal Pay Day 2020 Report, November 2020

[xviii] Alison Rogish et al., Advancing more women leaders in financial services: A global report, Deloitte Insights, June 2022

[xix] Deloitte  Center for Financial Services, Advancing women leaders in the financial services industry, 2023 update: A global assessment, June 2023

[xx] This is mandated under the UK’s Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017.


Robert Stubbs

Insights Director, Financial Services

Rob has been working in FS research for more than 25 years, with senior roles at a range of research, consulting and strategy firms including EY, The Boston Consulting Group and Accenture. More recently, he spent six years in commercial analysis, as Head of Research at Chartis and RegTech Associates. During this time, he has worked on a wide range of projects - from thought leadership to client delivery - with a host of UK financial institutions, regulators and policy makers. He has deep expertise in project scoping, mixed methods research design and delivery, data analysis, business writing, presentation, editorial and coaching. Rob is energised by the opportunity that research gives him to get in touch with new ideas, and to deliver real value through rigorous methodologies, quality analysis and depth of insight.  

Margaret Doyle

Chief Insights Officer and Partner

Margaret is Deloitte UK’s Chief Insights Officer and Partner, Financial Services (FS). She sits on Deloitte’s UK FS Executive, and also leads on Eminence on the Deloitte North South Europe FS Executive. She and her team have produced reports on innovation and disruption in banking, insurance and investment management, culture in banking and talent in banking and insurance, and publish the bi-annual London Office Crane Survey. Margaret started her career with McKinsey & Company, before moving into financial journalism. She covered business and finance for The Economist and The Daily Telegraph for a decade, and for two years edited Global Agenda, the magazine of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos. She then covered investment banking for the award-winning Reuters Breakingviews. Margaret presented several flagship current affairs programmes for the BBC, including Today, The World Tonight and Analysis on Radio 4; The World Today on the World Service and Wake Up to Money on Five Live. A native of County Wexford, Margaret studied economics at Trinity College, Dublin, where she was an Entrance Exhibitioner and Foundation Scholar. She earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School, (HBS), which she attended on a Fulbright Scholarship, and from which she graduated as a Baker Scholar (top 5% of the class). She has served on the HBS European Advisory Board or its predecessor since its inception in 2003, and is a British-American Project Fellow.