Unlocking the Potential for Female Mobility in the Workforce

May 25, 2021 Suzanne Courtney

In many countries, women represent about half of the financial services industry. However, few women reach senior leadership positions and there’s a reported gender gap for the timing of the first promotion, according to research by Catalyst. Consider the following data points:

  • In 2018, women represented 12% of CFOs in large-cap firms and 34% of CFOs in mid-cap firms.1
  • In 2019, women’s global representation on executive committees in major financial services firms was only 20%.2 
  • In 2019, women’s global share of board directors in major financial services firms was only 23%.3
  • In 2017, the financial services industry in North America reported a 24% gap between the rates of first promotions (from entry-level to manager) of women and men, despite asking for promotions at comparable rates.4

Organizations are now taking action.

In Aon’s recent Global HR Pulse Survey, one in five organizations are investing in targeted upskilling programs for women as well as for those from ethnic groups. This could be because 46% of financial services’ respondents say they are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to fewer women in leadership positions.

67% of organizations have heightened concern about having fewer women in leadership positions as a consequence of the pandemic.

Here, we share how a large banking organization was able to identify those women ready for leadership positions and how these women were also identified as having the capabilities to move to a new function.

Lack of leadership-ready women in the technology function

Our banking client was committed to the career development of all its workforce and to create more gender-balanced leadership teams. The firm’s leaders were not satisfied with the mobility and progression of women in leadership roles within the bank’s technology division. Fundamentally, there were too few women in the function to develop and promote. There were, however, women already identified as having leadership potential in other parts of the business.

The questions facing those in the technology division were:

  •  Which of the women in the talent pool were ready for a leadership position right now?
  • Which of these women could make the successful transition into the tech team?

The firm needed to understand whether the leader-ready women elsewhere in the business would embrace the challenge of a functional shift in direction and be curious to learn what was needed to succeed in the new division.

Objective assessment plays its part

A growth mindset was considered essential. As the leadership role was located in a new area for these leaders-in-waiting and would take the women on a different career path, the successful leader would be one who was agile, adaptable and keen to learn and develop — all qualities that embody a growth mindset.
Fortunately, growth mindset can be measured.

Using Aon’s personality assessment and a test of cognitive ability, the bank could objectively assess each of the 50 women in the talent pool. Their scores were benchmarked against a model of growth mindset as well as the fundamentals of being a humble and empowering leader.

Understanding assessment scores

With those women in the talent pool assessed, the firm was able to position each woman into one of four quadrants based on their readiness for promotion into a leadership role in a different part of the business.

We found 12.5% of the women in the talent pool were ready to take on a leadership position and had the behavioral and cognitive profile that confirmed they had the growth mindset needed to make the successful transition.

When readiness for promotion goes hand in hand with growth mindset

This banking firm already had a process in place to identify which talent, regardless of gender, was ready for a leadership role. It knew that this was important so that it could act as opportunities arose.

The challenge came when, due to the low number of women in the technology function, it needed to look outside of the established talent pool and spot who could be ready to step into a leadership position, as well as make the career shift into a different part of the business.

With our assessment solutions and services, we helped the client gain a deeper understanding of leadership readiness for promoting internal talent across functions. For those firms committed to progression across the company, this leadership readiness needs to go hand-in-hand with an assessment of adaptability to new function and a curiosity to learn and embrace a new challenge.

Contact us to find out how we can support your internal mobility practices.


1: Jessica Clempner, Michelle Daisley, and Astrid Jaekel, Women in Financial Services 2020: A Panoramic Approach (Oliver Wyman, 2019): p. 18.

2,3: Jessica Clempner, Michelle Daisley, and Astrid Jaekel, Women in Financial Services 2020: A Panoramic Approach (Oliver Wyman, 2019): p. 6.

4: Stacey Chin, Alexis Krivkovich, and Marie-Claude Nadeau, Closing the Gap: Leadership Perspectives on Promoting Women in Financial Services, (McKinsey & Company, September 2018): p. 5.

About the Author

Suzanne Courtney

Suzanne Courtney is the UK Managing Director for Aon's Assessment Solutions and is a recognized occupational psychology consultant with extensive expertise in assessment, leadership development, people strategies and employee engagement. She is responsible for the company’s performance and growth in the UK market. Aon's Assessment Solutions undertake 30 million assessments each year in 90 countries and 40 languages.

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