The lack of women in finance is a business problem we can solve

not enough women get to the top in financial services. They outnumber the men but tend not to progress beyond middle management. Women make up only 14 per cent of executive committees in the sector.

This is a problem that we should all work harder to solve. In my report for the government, Empowering Productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in the Financial Services Industry, we found the problem of gender balance is a business issue. Motherhood and childcare are not major factors, but culture is.

The issues behind culture are solveable, but they need focus. The report recommended they should be addressed like any other business problem. This means each business setting its own strategy and targets for gender inclusion, publishing them and being prepared to link them with rewards.

In the past year, more than 140 financial services companies have signed up to the Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, covering more than 560,000 people in the UK.

Which is fantastic. But there is still more to do.

When we launched the preliminary recommendations at an event in Downing Street, one guest from a US investment bank said she believed there were some jobs in the sector that were not suitable for most women. One woman in the audience, shocked at this, asked: “What job in your investment bank isn’t suitable for a woman?” “IT” came the response.

In a world where we have a female first minister, female surgeons and where women can fight in the infantry, that cannot be right.

Recently, a well-known senior executive told me that he wouldn’t commit to public gender targets because his business needed to take the best person for the job. Headhunters repeatedly tell us it is impossible to put forward balanced shortlists for senior roles.

I think we have to work harder at finding good people.

And we need to work harder at encouraging young girls to think about careers in financial services.

It’s important to do good business with good people. Too often we are expected to conform to established norms. But conformity does not create innovation and growth. We need diversity in business to mirror our society and to be innovative, creative and relevant.

And that’s why I was delighted to be the patron of the inaugural Future AS5ET conference.

Events such as this one convened by Angus Tulloch and backed by Stewart Investors and other Scottish institutions are important.

This free one-day conference will play a vital role in inspiring girls to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them in financial services and beyond. By inviting 15 to 17-year-old girls from the length and breadth of Scotland, we hope to develop confidence and inspire and empower a new generation of women.

Every secondary school in Scotland has been invited to nominate up to four female S5 pupils to attend September’s Future AS5ET event. The organisers are offering generous financial contributions as well as travel and accommodation for those where distance would be a barrier. To date, 115 schools have registered 485 pupils to attend.

And the reason for supporting initiatives such as this? It’s the economy.

The strong moral case for helping women reach their aspirations is obvious, and the economic case is compelling. The OECD has estimated that equalising the role of men and women in the labour market could increase GDP by 10 per cent by 2030.

This conference is an opportunity to really showcase the benefits the financial services industry has to offer. There are rewarding careers with good pay and benefits and crucially pensions too. Most financial services companies support working parents with paid time off and it’s where the innovation of offering great opportunities for women to return to work after a career break started.

The Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter and conferences such as this are vital to ensure that women are able to reach their potential, both now and in the future.