Encouraging women in the banking and financial sector

Encouraging women in the banking and financial sector
Abena Osei-Poku MD Absa-Bank Ghana

…. a major move to achieve rapid economic development

Providing the opportunity for women to occupy key roles in the financial sector has been seen as one of the fruitful ways of not just empowering women, but also positioning the economy to leapfrog. For now, men dominate leadership roles in Ghana’s banking and financial sector, sparking the debate of equitable access to leadership roles in the sector.

A report authored by Pearl Amma Nkrumah, the former Head, Main Markets and Ecosystems at Stanbic Bank Ghana and published by the bank in 2019, said the percentage of women in leadership roles within the financial services firms was 21.9 percent, which is projected to grow to 31 percent by 2030—a figure still below parity.

In a quest to enhance financial inclusion, the government launched the world’s first digital financial services (DFS) policy, to open the financial sector to the informal economy which is mostly made up of women. One of the cardinal features of the policy is to capture about 85 percent of men and women in the economy to have financial accounts by 2023.

The concern is that in the Ghanaian society, men are encouraged to have financial accounts earlier in life compared to women since men are expected to be the breadwinners of their families. It is for this reason that many financial observers believe that digitising the financial sector opens the platform for all, including women to take advantage of the financial ecosystem.

The history of banking and finance is reflected in its current state where the male gender dominates the sector. To understand this one must look at the history of banking as far back as 2000 B.C. when merchants loaned off grains to farmers and traders.

It is important to point out that these activities were mainly done by men because of the labour intensity involved. According to history, although the industry has evolved from a simplistic barter system to a modern complex, globalised, technology-driven, and internet-based banking model, the banking sector is still not gender balanced.

Typically, because men occupy the high places in the sector, the male dominance has resulted in a situation where most decision taken are male biased. The main challenge here is the steps needed to dilute the concentrated male-dominated banking and financial sector – particularly at the top.

Undoubtedly, the banking and financial sector is one of the main areas in the services sector that is continuously seeing rapid growth. It is also a fact that unlike men, women face peculiar circumstances that may require a “pause”. This could be biological issues such as giving birth. Interestingly, some employers, particularly men will use this as a point to disadvantage a woman for occupying the top spot in some working places. This is illegal and unfair hence unorthodox means are deployed to conceal these acts to disadvantage women from rising to top positions.

Despite all the challenges women face in the financial sector, a few have overcome the obstacles to show society that women are capable of achieving greater heights when given the opportunity and not discriminated. Until recently, the CEO of banks were dominated by males.

It was very encouraging when the former CEO of UBA Ghana, Abiola Bawua assumed the position. It was even more refreshing when Patience Akyianu was announced CEO of former Barclays Bank Ghana until she left.

Currently, the financial sector can boast of Mansa Nettey, CEO of Standard Chartered Ghana; Abena Osei-Poku, CEO of Absa Bank Ghana. More refreshing, the financial sector has seen hardworking women occupying key positions such as the Deputy Managing Director of the Ghana Stock Exchange, Abena Amoah; and Rev. Mrs. Patricia Sappor, the President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIB), to name a few.

These are women with tremendous experience in the financial sector who have risen above the challenges to reach great heights.

Perhaps, successful women in the banking and financial sector should mentor young females in the sector to boost their confidence in order to change the narrative. To make this work, we must begin to unlearn the old traditional views that suggest that women do not have a place in the world of finances. We need to understand and relearn the fact that women have a better place in the financial ecosystem system hence must be given the opportunity to be mentored.

In addition, women in the financial space must be bold and also avail themselves to successful females in the sector to guide and mentor them. There must be enough motivation to urge women on to achieve this feat.

Having more women in the drive for financial inclusion will be a great catalyst to encourage them climb up the financial ladder. It is also an important move that can rapidly drive economic development. As we mark International Women’s Day, let us make it an important day of encouraging women to explore the banking and the financial space.

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