All companies are in favor of more Diversity & Inclusion, in theory. However, in reality, many businesses struggle to turn theory into practice. That's why we interviewed spokespeople from Bloomberg to learn how this media giant has grown its database from 500 to 5000 top women finance experts in less than a year.

When Bloomberg, the world’s largest financial news organisation, discovered that only 5 percent of the finance experts they interviewed were women, they decided to do something about it. What was the problem?

According to the bookers, whose job it is to look for the experts to interview, they either couldn´t find the women or there weren´t women in the right financial roles. In the rare case they did manage to find a woman, she didn´t feel comfortable to appear on TV.

The solution the media company came up with, called the New Voices program, was just as simple as it was effective. Top women executives in the banking and financial services industry were encouraged to apply for a fully sponsored 4-hour one-on-one media training, in order to get them TV-ready for interviews on Bloomberg and any other media outlet. Women could either apply for training program themselves, get nominated or nominate someone else.

New Voices in finance

The results of the New Voices program exceeded all expectations. Within less than a year Bloomberg's database of women financial experts for their newsroom grew from 500 to 5,000 names.

What started as an experiment is now being rolled out all over the world. In April 2019, the program was also launched in Dubai. “In the long term we don´t want to limit the program only to women, but also extend it to other groups that are unrepresented in our news outlets,” explains Manisha Mehrotra, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Bloomberg.

The lack of female representation in the Bloomberg News spokesperson database is just one example of the challenge that almost all companies face when it comes to gender equality. In theory, companies are all in favour of more diversity in senior leadership, but in practice, boardrooms are still male dominated.

According to a recent study by the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman only 6 percent of CEOs in financial services are women. Only 9 percent of chair roles are held by women. The same study shows that in Dubai, the representation of women in executive committees is only 11 percent. This last number is important, because most CEOs are recruited from the executive committee.

Creating role models

The argument that businesses often use when recruiting for senior leadership positions, is very similar to the one the bookers of Bloomberg Media used; they simply cannot find the right woman for that specific role.

That´s why the New Voices program can serve as an inspiration for other companies, especially in the finance industry. It shows that there is more than enough potential to draw from - almost half of the workforce in finance are women - but you need to actively invest in them.

"One of the goals of New Voices, was to create role models for other potential women leaders in the finance industry,” explains Manisha. “For everyone with ambition it´s important to actually see people in senior positions with same gender or ethnicity or with the same cultural background."

That was exactly the reason why Umera Ali, Head of Banking & Finance with law firm DWF in Dubai, decided to join Bloomberg's New Voices program. “I´m often the only woman in the room,” she explains. “That´s why I think it´s important to help other women with their career. Making yourself visible is one way to do that.”

"I remember, for example, when I was studying, Christine Lagarde – at that time still president of the IMF – was a role model. Although we didn´t have anything in common, the mere fact that a woman could reach that position, was an inspiration."

Equality is not enough

As the Bloomberg example shows and many studies confirm, it is not enough to have role models. Companies need to put a program place to create a level playing field for all talent, regardless their gender or background. It is a mistake to think that equality alone will lead to more diversity.

“There is the difference between equality and equity,” explains Manisha Mehrotra. “You can think of equality as a fence around a football pitch that is the same height for everyone. That seems fair, right? But it doesn´t factor in the fact that not everyone has the same height. If people have different starting positions, obviously the outcome will be different as well. This is what happens, for example, with women who have to deal with gender bias.”

More diversity boosts the economy

On a personal level, colleagues can help each other to take away these kinds of roadblocks. “Support from colleagues is key,” says Umera. “It happened to me once - my male colleague and I were talking to a client who just presumed that my colleague was the expert in the room. It was my colleague who made clear to him that I was actually the person the client needed to talk to.”

On an organisational level, special training and networking programs are key to success. That´s why Bloomberg recently launched the Fair Share program, that helps women in finance in the Middle East make the transition from entry-level to a managerial position. The program is rolled out in collaboration with a wide variety of market participants and stakeholders, including government agencies and regulators, who together provide knowledge-sharing sessions to help talented women professionals in the finance industry develop their leadership skills. So far, approximately 60 women in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have taken part in these sessions, with more planned across the Gulf this year.

Also, a worldwide platform like Ellevate Network where women professionals support and advice each other to make the next career step, is having a big impact through its local city-based chapters across the world.

Such efforts are not just important for the personal careers of the women that profit from them, in the long they also have an enormous impact on the economy. According to the IMF more gender diversity could boost the size of the economies in some countries by as much as 35 percent. More women in the boardroom is, in other words not just right thing to do, but also a financially sound decision.

At PageGroup, we’re committed to promoting inclusion at work both at PageGroup and through our clients and candidates. Our internal resourcing department ensures a wide representation of candidates across all areas of diversity and we've built diversity and inclusion content into all our training programmes, developed coaching sessions, lunch and learns, focus groups and supporting networks of champions. Find out more about our commitment to Diversity & Initiatives in the Middle East.