Bright sparks

Attracting young women to careers in finance has the potential to transform the economy and the gender equality ratio

Bright sparks

There are tremendous opportunities for young women to forge careers in finance in SA. Key to this is to ignite the spark early on, so that learners in their high-school years can begin to visualise where they’d like to see themselves in adulthood.

We need more young women to consider a career in finance if we are to achieve our goals of gender equality and a much-needed rise in the number of female leaders in the workplace. While this is a key element of the overall transformation strategy of many companies, the steps towards change should start well before university graduates begin their job searches. Building future women leaders has its roots at school level. Getting young women on board can begin when learners need to choose their matric subjects in Grade 9, and later when they are thinking of applying to study further. There are various ways to do this, from career days at schools and visits to the workplace, to encouraging more young women to job-shadow in the financial sector and mentoring teenagers interested in finance as a future career.

The goal is to get girls intrigued and excited about potential careers in finance. Tech-savvy teenagers will be the agents of change in the future, bringing with them agility and fresh ideas. Promoting the benefits of working in the sector, as well as being at the cutting edge of new technologies and developments in a changing world, could hold great appeal for the next generation of female professionals.

Some companies are taking the lead in encouraging young women to consider careers in financial services in SA. RMB, for example, has a drive to empower and advance women, which includes a focus on high-school girls. The company brings together learners and encourages them to enter degree programmes based on maths and finance. It also hosts speakers who inspire and motivate young women to feel empowered to reach their goals.

The power of having a positive role model can help girls carve out their ideas for a future career. Finding a mentor can be a turning point by having someone in their corner who can give them advice and the confidence to help them achieve their goals. It’s never too early or late to help others by reaching out to promising young women at high school or university. It’s a great opportunity to pay it forward by looking out for that young woman in a family, community or further afield and be ready to offer advice, answer their questions and listen to their concerns about future studies and careers.

It’s clear that there are great numbers of young women interested in business more broadly. The Higher Education and Skills 2017 report, published in 2019 by Stats SA, outlines that the most popular field by far for female students is business, economics and management studies, followed by the education and health professions at universities and TVET colleges. Yet at many universities, far more men than women study finance. We need to work to change this so that the more niche area of finance becomes an increasingly attractive option for talented, ambitious and hard-working young women.

It’s in the interests of businesses to do so. Research has consistently shown that companies with greater gender diversity perform better and generate more profits. It simply makes more business sense.

It is through starting from the roots up that we can help transform the sector and grow future women leaders who will take our financial services forward in a dynamic way.

By Kim Cloete