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UK Private Sector Employers Must Do More for Gender Equality in 2018

23 January 2018

by Jessica Williams

In 2017, gender parity was a major focus of private sector hiring practice, and a conversation hard to miss both online and offline. As a recruitment agency operating within this space, we were keen to explore the subject further for our clients and candidates, something we achieved through our “Talent in Insurance” workshops, thought leadership content, and sponsorship and attendance of diversity-related events.

To gain a deeper understanding of gender diversity’s impact on recruitment, we reviewed the gender split of senior placements across all business areas. The analytics revealed some interesting trends, particularly within our technical disciplines. In this article, we discuss the results and what they mean for our networks in 2018…

N.B. Data was collated from roles we placed in 14 areas, and measured the split of male to female placements with salaries ranging from £70,000 up to £350,000.

Key insights

  • Last year, 63% of our leadership placements were male, compared to 37% female
  • Compliance hires were some of the most evenly split, at 51:49 male to female
  • Finance, quantitative analytics, actuarial and IT security were the markets in which women were most under-represented, at 24%, 25%, 38% and 13%, respectively
  • The placement of women in the legal and tax sectors was consistently high in 2017


Across all industries, there are indicators that female representation needs to be increased at leadership level. Various systemic reasons have been reported, including inflexible working policies, fewer opportunities for promotion, and challenges when returning from parental leave. Though this is concerning, it is also unsurprising given the many historic, social and cultural factors at play – namely longstanding biases in the workplace, a lack of senior female role models, and the disproportionate ratio of male to female candidates coming through at entry level. Despite the many high-profile campaigns that seek to increase female presence at the top tier, it is clear more needs to be done to convert words into actions.

Our consultants are acutely aware of the role we play from a talent attraction perspective, and we are committed to measuring and influencing the pipeline of external hires to assist in advancing gender equality. The ratios we have seen within our higher tier placements show an increase on last year, but are still something we hope to evolve further in 2018.

Technical industries aren’t measuring up

Several areas displayed consistent hiring patterns, with placements favouring male candidates in most cases. But what is occurring within these environments to create such disparity? And what can be done to offset the imbalance without sacrificing impartiality in the process? We asked the consultants leading those desks for their view…


“During qualification, men and women tend to progress at a similar rate. Beyond that, women typically underpin the transactional facet of the function, while the C-suite tier is disproportionately represented by men. We believe this is namely due to a culture of long hours and inflexibility, which impedes the progression of women by not accounting for the pressures of maternity and childcare. Equally, returning to the industry after time off to raise a family can often mean missing significant advancements. Companies that successfully integrate and evidence agile working practices could benefit from increased retention and greater equality in future progression – helping to balance representation at the top.”

IT Security

“Tech jobs are predominantly degree-led, and it is not uncommon for entire courses to be filled with men. Programming, network engineering and development are already heavily male-weighted professions, meaning the sector is geared this way from the ground up. In a sense, we are limited by a female-short market, so a lot of our work focuses on changing the way the industry is perceived by women at grassroots level. Just last year, we sponsored an event called She Leads Tech, which was designed to encourage and empower young women in this field. Ironically, the industry in itself is one of the more progressive, with employers actively asking for diverse shortlists, so demand is definitely there to level the playing field.”


“As a traditionally male-dominated market, we place a lot of VP to Director-level candidates that are men. However, we are already seeing movement from the bottom up to even the score in 2018. Numerous businesses are requesting 45-55% male to female shortlists at graduate level. The view here is to enable burgeoning talent to filter up into a more balanced and dynamic environment.”


“In the UK, 38% of actuarial students are female, and just 24% of all qualified actuaries are women. This is indicative of a wider systemic pattern, in which males outnumber females in the STEM subjects most conducive to actuarial career paths. Interestingly however, 54% of our positions in the pensions/investments market were filled by women last year, a niche area of actuarial that demonstrates historic imbalance may be softening.” 

A place for all

The compliance and legal markets pulled ahead of the pack in 2017, whereby equal representation ranked high on the list of priorities for our clients within these spaces…


“Our desk ranked among Oliver James’ best in terms of securing the most evenly split placements. Clients have been asking for 50/50 shortlists, at least one female candidate in shortlists, or an explanation as to why if not. This is due in part to HR becoming stricter on female-representative shortlists, leading to a more balanced pool for hiring managers to select from. Plus, more women have applied for senior compliance roles this year than in previous years, which has occurred in tandem with the growth of flexible/agile working.”


“70% of our legal placements in 2017 were female, showing how the market is moving away from its 'old boys’ club' image. We are seeing the industry evolve into an increasingly meritocratic one, where education is paving the way for ambitious individuals regardless of gender. Internally, we maintain a steady focus on shortlists, but since equality is becoming ingrained at hiring level, more often than not, we are simply asked to send the best-fit candidates to roles.”

Overall, many client businesses are attempting to facilitate fairer hiring practices, but there is work to be done across the private sector as a whole. Promoting gender equality at the education-stage may help technical professions attract more female talent from relevant degree subjects, diversifying the candidate pool and offsetting brain drain. Equally, partnerships with schools and universities aligned in agenda could help to breed more inclusive environments.

At an employment level, companies can do more too. There are strong benefits to encouraging greater internal mobility, giving employees the opportunity to work in different areas of business for more fulfilling careers. Not only would this help to broaden skill sets but fill talent gaps, aiding future attraction and retention strategies.  

As a trusted recruitment partner, we acknowledge and address unconscious biases, gender neutral writing in job descriptions, and the importance of D&I training within our acquisition strategy, but true gender parity comes from how businesses create cultures that nurture, develop and celebrate male and female talent equally. We are committed to understanding the approaches our clients take to retaining and developing talent from under-represented groups, so we can influence and improve attraction together.

For more diversity insights like this, please contact Sarah Coombs on


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