Despite the general consensus that there needs to be greater representation of women in commodities trading, progress in this arena seems to have slowed, particularly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Where are we falling short? In this $2 trillion dollar industry, there must be better ways to encourage the presence of women, particularly at the senior leadership and executive level.
An Overview of the Gender Gap
The percentage of women in commodities, financial services, and similar industries has always been more modest than it should be, trailing far behind other professional fields. While the gender gap across all industries was closing steadily, the onset of the pandemic brought a fresh set of challenges to this endeavour. In the US in particular, being the only industrialized nation in the world without paid parental leave, this presented a huge struggle for women in commodities. Many were forced to choose between pursuing a career and being a parent, owing to the lack of childcare options during 2020 and beyond.
While women make up nearly half the financial services industry, only 13% of women in that industry take up leadership roles. According to Bloomberg, this is even worse in the commodities sector specifically: women in leadership across the world’s biggest commodity traders is 5%. This has slowly been getting better over the years, as mentioned before, but it’s a slow process that was heavily impeded by the pandemic.
The Feedback Loop
The lack of women in commodities at the senior leadership level leads to younger women being dissuaded from pursuing a career in commodities, which then contributes again to the lack of women in these positions, and so on and so forth in a feedback loop that is difficult to break entirely. Many women believe that there is no upward mobility in commodities for them.
Commodities also has a reputation for being a ‘boy’s club’, or an environment that has a reputation for being high-stress and high-pressure, something that many consider wouldn’t necessarily reflect a woman’s lifestyle. This is a clearly outdated method of thinking – there is a clear distinction to be made between a high-pressure environment and a toxic environment that is masquerading as simply ‘high-pressure.’
Many of the barriers for women in commodities are simply ideological, but many ideals have been ingrained for so long that it is difficult for them to dissipate so quickly. In the agriculture sector in particular, there is a culture of legacy, where men enter the field because of their families or parents and their history with farming.
Of course, all of this is changing, but we should all be working harder to ensure that working environments in commodities trading are supportive and inclusive of all genders and encourage diversity of background and thought.
Much of the path to diversity begins at the roots – there needs to be far more acceptance and encouragement for young women, even as early as primary school, to pursue careers in STEM other traditionally “male” fields. This is obviously a problem in the domain of educational institutions, but many businesses are now reaching out to schools and universities to help them encourage young women to pursue careers in their respective fields.
Many businesses are also employing Chief Diversity Officers in an attempt to increase their gender diversity, as well as ethnic and socio-economic diversity. Several industries are just now realising the importance of this role, as well as how much help it can actually be to have one person designated to designing and implementing frameworks of inclusivity. This is a great first step to amending a workplace culture and making it more attractive to women and other minorities – which is an especially important and difficult task considering the current global talent squeeze we are facing.
CDOs also help design and run diversity workshops, which have proven to be helpful in business settings. This is not to say that hiring a CDO is the end-all-be-all of diversity woes, but it’s a good start towards bridging the stark gender gap in an extremely male-dominated industry.
As a global executive search firm, we champion diversity as one of our core pillars as we believe in not only its importance, but that diversity of all backgrounds in any business gives it a competitive edge. When making placements, we are sure to explore a wide variety of candidate pools to ensure we find the best match for our clients. Diverse searches and diverse hires are a cornerstone of the future for all businesses, in all industries.
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