Episode 10: WERKIN with John McFarlane on measuring progress towards gender equality in finance

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WERKIN founder and CEO Hayley Sudbury sits down with a role model from her days in finance, John McFarlane, Chairman of Barclays. McFarlane has a knack for leading with intuition, envisioning desired results and then working with his team to get there. McFarlane’s career has been marked with leading some of the world’s largest financial institutions out of difficult times, implementing measurable programmes to turn things around. When it comes to creating more diverse and inclusive work cultures in finance, McFarlane has found “you get what you measure; you get what you reward”.

In tackling some of the industry’s biggest challenges, McFarlane has observed that many of them, from encouraging profit growth to improving public perception, can be addressed by creating more open and transparent cultures. McFarlane describes trying to break down the closed culture he found at one organization,

“We needed communication to rise up the organisation and to flow down the organisation and with closed minds it couldn't happen. Information was power”.

In addition to organisational transparency, McFarlane discusses the importance of choosing to align your own reality with what you envision,

“If you choose the reality as the real you, you'll set a vision pretty close to your reality because you want to know how to achieve it. Whereas if the vision is the real you, the challenge becomes shifting the reality. The way you do that is you have a vague idea of what the program is, you don't have a certain idea what it is, but you know roughly how you are going to go about it”.

For McFarlane, “the concept of having a vision, which is basically an idea that you really believe in, and the sharper you can paint that with the most vibrant colours, locks it down to a more compelling proposition”. Envisioning success in order to achieve it has been a major factor in encouraging women in the organisations he’s led to pursue professional opportunities.

“Regarding recruiting and advertised jobs, if a man wanted to get that job, you’ll get men applying for a job that they were completely unskilled for. You had women that were perfectly skilled way beyond, questioning whether they had hundred percent of the requirements. We had this psychological barrier where women wouldn’t apply because they didn’t think they were ready. Men would apply when they were miles from being ready”.

Indeed, McFarlane’s observation aligns with a 2014 report revealing that men apply for a job when they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, while women only apply if they meet 100 percent of them. Which is why it matters so much when leaders like McFarlane assess these organisational dynamics and then go about improving their internal processes to make them more inclusive. For example, companies can update job descriptions to remove gender bias.

In addition to putting the work in to assess gender dynamics in the financial institutions he’s led, McFarlane emphasised to managers the seriousness of implementing reforms and meeting targets,

“If you don't [meet your diversity goals], you fail and if you fail, it means you don't do this anymore. So, you need to understand, I’m not messing around with this”.

Much of McFarlane’s advice on a greater commitment to gender equality in finance is useful as the UK’s leading financial institutions refine and implement action plans to close their gender pay gaps. To hear Hayley's full interview with McFarlane, listen on iTunes or SoundCloud.