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Finance Winnows Women From Ranks as They Climb Career Ladders

  • Study: Females make up 76% of support staff, 21% of executives
  • `The pipeline isn't filling,' Mercer's Pat Milligan says

The finance industry offers women a lot of work, especially at the entry level. But each rung up the career ladder, they are increasingly winnowed from the business by lagging recruiting, retention and promotion from within, according to new research.

“The pipeline isn’t filling,” said Pat Milligan, global leader of consulting firm Mercer’s multinational client group and “When Women Thrive” programs aimed at promoting gender diversity. “And the reality is women are leaving the workforce. ”

Women make up 76 percent of support staff in finance and insurance, a figure that shrinks to 48 percent on the professional level, 44 percent among mid-level managers, 30 percent among senior managers and 21 percent at the executive ranks, according to data from Mercer’s third annual survey of corporate employee records, presented at a conference in San Francisco on gender balance in the financial world. The information comes from a survey last year of 583 companies in 42 countries, including data on 3.2 million employees.

The gender imbalance shows few signs of improving even after decades of effort, Milligan said in an interview at the conference co-sponsored by State Street Corp. and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and held on International Women’s Day.

“The issue isn’t not bringing in enough women,” Milligan said. “It’s not promoting enough and them leaving too fast.”

Accumulated “microaggressions,” or demeaning actions or comments that can be unintentional, are one reason some women fail to rise through the ranks or stay with a company, according to Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, executive director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

“There’s a small margin of error along the way favoring men over women,” she said in an interview.

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