Future of Work

The “alpha-male” culture in some financial services organisations is the “overwhelming” reason women give for not wanting to take on senior jobs in the sector, MPs have reported.

Firms especially need to change their bonus culture, the Treasury Committee said, as it is perceived men argued more forcefully and got higher rewards.

MPs recommended bonuses should instead be assessed against “clear criteria”. Industry body UK Finance said progress had been made but more had to be done.

‘Objective criteria’

Committee chairwoman Nicky Morgan said “Firms should focus on changing the culture in financial services firms, which remains a deterrent for women, especially the bonus culture.

“In the current bonus culture – whereby individuals argue how well they have performed – it’s perceived that men argue more forcefully for bonuses, which can disadvantage women.

“This should be replaced by a system where performance bonuses are assessed against objective and formulaic criteria,” she added.

The Treasury Select Committee’s report on Women in Finance followed an eight month long enquiry into how to get more women into senior roles in financial services.

MP’s heard from Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia that she had seen “alpha-male-ness” in her colleagues’ behaviour and “a very male culture” in some organisations in which she had previously worked.

On the bonus culture Ms Gadhia said: “In particular in financial services, one of the things that women dislike… is the bonus culture [where] people have to go and argue how well they have or have not performed.”

She had also said that if firms did not have strong middle managers who are really managing performance there was a “skew to men being rewarded better than women”.

However, Axa group chief executive Amanda Blanc was also asked about the “alpha-male” culture.

She said it had been a problem in the past, but, while there were still examples of “bad culture” today, it was not “systemic” within the industry, and “certainly not within the insurance industry”.


The Committee’s report said gender pay gap figures published earlier this year had confirmed that a large gap existed between men and women working in finance, particularly regarding bonuses.

The MPs said they had heard evidence that the bonus culture prevented women from advancing in financial services.

The report concluded there was “clearly an under-representation” of women in senior positions in the financial services sector.

To tackle the issues, the Committee recommended firms should:

  • Assess bonuses against clear criteria to abolish “alpha-male” culture
  • Remove the stigma of flexible working by getting more senior men to “lead by example” and work flexibly
  • Publish strategies for closing gender pay gaps and supporting women’s progression
  • Re-examine their recruitment and promotion policies to eliminate unconscious bias – people recruiting in their own image
  • Promote returner schemes for women on maternity leave

In addition, MPs said girls should be encouraged to study relevant subjects at school to boost the number of young women choosing to work in financial services.

In a statement UK Finance, which represents about 300 firms in the sector, said the Treasury Committee report raised some “important challenges concerning diversity and the representation of women in senior management across business”.

“Within the financial services sector some progress has already been made. There is clearly more to be done and we will continue to work with our members to improve the relevant practices.”

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