Open Review of Management, Banking and Finance

«They say things are happening at the border, but nobody knows which border» (Mark Strand)

Concluding remarks of a conference on ‘Diversity and gender equality in the banks’.

 by Francesco Capriglione [i]

Abstract: Both academics and practitioners have been often involved in the long-standing discussion on gender parity. This paper – which reports the conclusions of a recent conference on such topic – sought to explore the main reasons why women remain under-represented in senior and middle management positions within the financial sector. Building on the idea that gender diversity may improve key performance indicators, the study focuses primarily on the argument that – even though several barriers are still restricting women’s access to managerial roles – stereotypes and other bias must be overcome in order to enhance female contribution to the overall success of the business. However, as highlighted in the analysis, career progression needs to follow the basic principles of meritocracy since individuals must be evaluated according to their skills and competences – and so independently of their own gender.

Summary: 1. Introduction. – 2. The issue of gender parity. – Diversity and banking governance: the perspective of a review of business models. – 4. European guidelines on the active role of women in management. – 5. The need for equal opportunities in spite of gender diversity.

1.      Wanting to begin these brief remarks with personal memories, distant in time but yet interesting with regard to the subject of today’s meeting, the thoughts turn back to my first job started more than half a century ago, in the Bank of Italy, institution in which, at the time, women were not allowed into the managerial career, but only in the administrative one . Significant, also, was the fact that the female staff – according to the strict internal rules – was required to wear an dark apron , almost having to hide their appearance, in a logic of homogenization to standardize the female members, and clearly stress out their gender diversity.

       There is no doubt – as nowadays reports show – that fortunately such a blatant female subordination (seen in the past even in the largest Italian financial institution), now survives only in the memories of those who, when young, , lived in a socio-economic context that is hopefully now definitely disappeared.

       First, I’d like to highlight that the thesis supported today are far from easy rhetoric, which usually characterizes the remarks on issues related to the rights claimed by the women’s movement; thesis that are also affirmed to overcome unjust discrimination related to diversity (religious or   racial one, but also homophily, etc.). Indeed, the debate today wants to rely upon balanced and logical arguments (both technical and legal) in order to explore and clarify the issue under observation.

2.     In particular, the debate focused on the topic of “diversity” in the EU framework, underlining how difficult the path towards satisfactory levels of “gender equality” has been in the recent years. It seemed significant, on this issue, the report regarding the increase (above the 20%) of the so called “female quotas” in the boards of directors of Italian firms (Parrella).

       At the same time, it’s worthy to consider also the convenience of whether delegating the identification of “gender equality” to the lawmaker’s intervention; this tendency, ascertainable in the Italian legislation (see Law n. 120 of the 12th July 2011), while not appreciated by some countries, such as the United Kingdom, has been an incentive for others, such as Germany, to promote some legislative amendments in this field (Brogi, Perrazzelli, Sciarrone).

       From previous observations and hypothesis, it has clearly emerged that “gender diversity” – and, therefore, the maintenance of unequal distinctions in the access to certain professional “careers” (as well as in the prospects for career progression- is a display of an ideological conservatism not annihilated yet, despite the relevant legislative amendments therein adopted, in compliance with the high levels of “juridical development” recently achieved. The solution of this problem has to be found by taking into consideration the specific cultural level of those countries engaged in its definition; hence the opinion according to which in countries like Italy it has to be deemed as opportune (if not necessary) the lawmaker’s intervention in order to overcome a long-standing paralysis, that otherwise could have lasted even longer (Perrazzelli).

       I do not want to focus any further on these debate’s topics; nevertheless, I intend not to conceal an idea that seems to stem from today’s reflections: I am referring, particularly, to the fact that a more complete (and hopefully ultimate) acknowledgment of “gender equality” is going to take a long time. This consideration is confirmed by the unequivocal observations made by some scholars (especially: Brogi and Zucchetti), as well as by the update, given to the audience, that among ABI’s “Executive Committee” there are no women (Zaccaria).

      That said, it is obvious that it will be necessary to proceed in the direction of improvement, as it seems to be emerged from the suggestions expressed in today’s speeches. Defeating the blind logic at the basis of the situations here criticized since now is, therefore, the aim to pursue, knowing that its fulfillment is strictly connected with the solution of the more general problem of searching for an enhancement of the “quality of life” among Member States (Perrazzelli). Moreover, it is necessary to specify that this path is an uphill struggle, that has to be undertaken by being convinced that a a vast part of the civil society must not be exposed to the deprivation of freedoms and rights granted on a constitutional level to all the citizens equally (Pellegrini, Zaccaria).

3.    In engaging the topic under consideration, most of the rapporteurs focused on evaluations regarding the difficult and recent financial crisis that, as is known, affected numerous countries of the Western area, causing a recessive phase and economic stagnation that only now seems to come to an end It has been stressed, thereof, that in order to start a real reinforcement of the economic recovery, an action from the credit industry, especially responsible and professionally qualified, is needed.

      Hence the necessity to search for a management composed of people with considerable technical ability and remarkable cultural sensitivity; a search that becomes the prerequisite of an agree which aims to guarantee the adequate and efficient functionality of the business organizational mechanisms (to which it is delegated the opportunity of improving the credit sector, making it more transparent and efficient than how it appears nowadays). It is become definitive, therefore, a context that requires, in order to achieve an effective management balance, administrative and supervisory bodies among which the gender differentiation could generate useful effects, improving the quality of the internal debate and posing on innovative basis the dialectical discussion between the business’s members.

      Upon this theoretical prerequisite accurate considerations have been engaged, in order to correlate diversity to the definition of a banking governance, which is functional to a closer cooperation between industry and finance (Bianco, Pellegrini, Ramasco, Sciarrone); thus, highlighting some of the most significant issues raised, at the European level, to identify adequate rules for optimizing managements.

       This part of the debate, regarding the possibility of achieving higher forms of economic development through diversity, brings back the renowned thesis of Daniela Del Boca, according to which “women’s work makes economy grow”; assumption that was used years ago for underlying the importance of female employment, with the intent of encouraging its appreciation. In conclusion, the observations expressed by today’s speakers indicate that the aforementioned statement does not limit its impact with conveying – based upon an accurate economic analysis – a “favor” towards female participation in the labor market; the useful effects that can be deduced from this participation go far beyond a significant increase in the growth process, which is a conceivable result especially in those countries characterized by gender gaps in employment rates.

     Right now, we are entitled to formulate an interpretation of the idea of women as participating to the productive model that allows us to attribute to the aforementioned formula the relevance of a “guideline”, in order to reconsider the benchmark of business organizational structure. This formula, indeed, seeks for a new definition of business, different from the one that, until a recent past, characterized its essence. This is a first conclusion that can be deduced from this conference! It presents a specific topicality in the banking field, in which the principle of gender equality has been fairly recognized only recently; this, with the obvious negative consequence of having deprived, for a long period, the financial activity of the significant contribution that could result from women’s presence in decision making and top management roles.

4.    Then, the speakers (Bianco, Falci, Guglielmetti, Pellegrini) have quoted some EU directives (e.g.: 2013/36/EU dealing with credit and investment companies; and, more, Regulation 575/2013/EU – the so-called CRD IV/CRR; as well as the directive 2014/65/EU about financial instruments’ markets – the so-called MIFID 2). It is literally inferred the orientation of the European lawmaker to give importance – above all in the regulation of corporate governance field – to the variety of ‘capabilities’ and ‘points of view’ of the members in the administrative and audit boards. Therefore, it outlines an evaluation parameter acknowledging an active managing role of women, in keeping with their professional capabilities and work experience.

     An acknowledgement comes from the European lawmaker, whose aim is to involve those willing to seek for building a ‘common house’, where the woman will, at last, have a central role, gained through an evolutionary process where a sort of cultural revolution, started more than a century ago, has been fulfilled. This is more significant in finance rather than in other fields; actually, in this field women have long been victims of a prejudice which has not allowed them to run for positions suitable to their intellect, to the peculiarity of their temper which makes them particularly fit to make decisions where rationality goes along with intuition in assessing risks.

   Since the end of the 19th century up to now the Nora of Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ has gone through a way full of obstacles to reach her goal, not yet complete achieved in my opinion, although the woman’s path – as it is coming out from the conclusions of this meeting (Amorosino, Siclari) – is acquiring a new perspective. Hope is being replaced by the certainty of achieving a goal, remarkably significant from an ethical profile as well, since the principle of equality among genders gains particular value if its grounds are ascribed to the aim of enriching society. The latter will, then, have the chance to benefit from an innovative cultural and practical input, featured by knowledge and techniques, which are not – or better, not willing to be – in contrast to the ones normally referred to man; rather, they aim at integrating their contents and improving their quality towards greater expectations to reach useful results for everybody (Bianco, Brogi, Pellegrini, Perrazzelli, Ramasco, Sciarrone).

     The guidelines given in this meeting suggest that the path of woman’s social and cultural emancipation (implied in achieving freedom from an age-old psychic and behavioural subjection to man) is going beyond the mere encouragement of female employment policies. It is no accident that a trend concerning gender equity issues converges on common interests. It is, then, clear that a school of thought limiting and compressing women’ true and expanding power at work means refusing progress; indeed, it allows to identify a persistent deplorable custom of mental violence damaging those who have been abused by a selfish, surely blameworthy, domineering will. On the other hand, every action clearly addressed to disregard gender equality ends up with an outdated attempt to force the historical process.

   The views here shown, which reaffirm the needs for enhancing women’s role state the widespread belief that their progressively growing presence on the ‘job market’ is able to activate a virtuous circle ending up with advantages for the whole economic system. In particular, referring to finance, the empowerment of women’s active role is likely to promote management practices shaped on higher levels of prudence, consequent to a peculiar care from those who, thanks to their moral integrity, avoid risky behaviour and pay special attention to complex circumstances.

  1. Before closing these brief thoughts I would like to present you with some of the questions that I asked myself before participating to this seminar.

         I am mainly referring to the identification of the reason why – especially in certain countries and in contexts characterized by delays in the economic development– women had to suffer a sort of penalization, becoming subject to the representatives of the male sex. The answer to this question must be found in the weak position in which women found themselves , starting with the biblical link to Adam’s rib. Certainly, their peculiar physiological connotations and the fact that women are destined to be mother and wife have eased the idea of their weakness in comparison to the power of men, intended in its broader sense (Brogi, Zaccaria); this convincement has contributed to woman’s social placement (as previously expressed), negatively influenced also by the necessary balancing between family and work commitments (to which she was forced).

         A deeper evaluation of the problem in question highlights that the specific status of women – and, therefore the unequal regime that they suffered through time because of the difference in gender – is essentially linked to cultural factors. It is not just a coincidence that women’s statuses appear to be less important (in comparison to men’s) mainly in undeveloped countries or ones dominated by religious ideas that are not afraid to accept logics in which women are configured as instrumental to the needs and desires of the exponents of the opposite sex, nearly in order to justify the influences that mortify their social role.

         Another question, to which I have not been able to answer, concerns the influence played by the technological progress on the market’s legal order. This progress highlights a new reality in which – as clarified by Giorgio Oppo a few years ago – a «depersonalization of relationships» reduces the historical identity of the individual. This dehumanization process – which mainly influenced the contractual term sand the delicate sector of financial operations –involves also the organizational profiles of businesses, since technology inevitably entails a simplification of the decisional schemes, a reduction of the responsibility in the presence of functions (such as risk management, internal audit and compliance) preordained for risk evaluating and containing risks and, therefore, limiting the riskiness of the financial intermediation.

         In the light of this, in reference to an increasing orientation towards the acceptance of the operational forms that come to business results often not entirely shared, the question is: which implications (also prospectively) may arise from the future distribution of tasks between men and women? Will we also find the affirmation of a «physicality» connected to technology that, according to Natalino Irti, limits intersubjective encounters and reduces dialogue, consequently slowing down the development towards gender equality, of which we have deeply talked about today? Or is it that thanks to the increased ability of women to adapt to change, because of their natural sensibility that induces them to be wary of automatisms (and, therefore, to pay special attention to the verification of the results that affect strategic choices) they will deliver a better performance as compared to that of their male counterparts?

         These are difficult questions to answer. . A solution to them may come from the adoption of measures aiming at rebalancing the subjective positions, organized consistently with the changes presented today.

         Therefore, I would like to conclude by recommending special attention for false problems! And with that I do not want to label as ‘false’ the problem of «gender equality», but I would like to highlight that an excessive insistence (at times inadequate) on the need to find solutions to this topic is likely to make us forget that this equality cannot exclude the comparison between the skills of persons of different gender. Therefore, the equality that must be sought is that of «similar conditions» required for a job and for the progression in its performance; thus it seems that a correct intervention would be the one that instead of continuing to affirm the need for a homogenization between men and women reaffirms the need to ensure equal opportunities for all, despite “gender diversity”.

[i] Concluding speech of the Conference on «Diversity e parità di genere nelle banche: dalla soft law all’attuazione della CRD IV», University Sapienza, Rome, 17 april 2015

Author

Francesco Capriglione is Full Professor of Banking Law and Financial Regulation and Dean of Law Faculty at Guglielmo Marconi University of Rome. Besides, he is President of Fondazione Gerardo Capriglione Onlus and Director of Master in Regulation of the Activities and the Financial Markets at LUISS Guido Carli University. His research interest areas are European banking law, institutional assets of financial top management, regulation of banking and financial markets, banking supervision and operations of financial intermediaries. He is author of over 300 peer-reviewed scientific public ations and fifteen books (e-mail: fondazionecapriglione@luiss.it).

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