Making the invisible visible

A recent MFAA survey shows significant gaps between how men and women perceive gender barriers in the industry. It's the first step in a bigger plan

More than 70% of men in the broking industry don’t believe women face any barriers in the third party channel. Likewise, nearly 60% of men don’t believe women are underrepresented in broking.

Pose those same questions to women and the results di­ffer significantly. Of the 60% of women who believe barriers do exist, ‘unconscious beliefs about gender roles in the workplace’ is considered the most pressing, followed by ‘industry culture that is not inclusive of women’ and a ‘lack of industry experience and expertise’. And contrary to the male view, nearly 60% of women believe their gender is under-represented in broking.

These results come from a first-of-its-kind survey that the MFAA conducted to identify barriers to female participation in broking, and to better understand what positive attributes the industry has that might appeal to diverse employees.

The MFAA received an overwhelming response to the survey, with more than 750 industry professionals – both male and female – participating and providing additional commentary.

The research reveals significant perception gaps between men and women, which can create stumbling blocks to progress. If one half of the population says it’s experiencing barriers but the other half – most of whom are in positions of power – don’t see, hear of or experience them first-hand, change is less likely to be a main priority.

“[Barriers are] often invisible to people in those senior influencing roles in the industry. What initiatives like this do is make the ‘invisible’ visible to everyone by highlighting the perception gaps, the uncertainties, and getting people to talk about specific examples of things that are holding them back,” says Jane Counsel, principal consultant at Executive Central and lead researcher for the MFAA’s survey.

The data also shows interesting perception gaps between people of di­fferent ages. Women aged 48 and over are more likely to report barriers to women’s progress than younger women, who say the largest challenge they face is burnout and lack of income in the early years. Middle-aged women, from 36 to 46, identify safety as their top concern.

“If we create a more inclusive industry culture then you will by default create opportunities for broader diversity” - Jane Counsel, MFAA consultant


Men under 35 say they don’t believe there are enough mentors and sponsors for both women and men in the industry, which suggests they are also looking for more support with career progression and development, Counsel says.

Both men and women made comments about the industry ‘boys’ club’, suggesting that some barriers were not specific to one gender.

“There’s a cultural piece as well around some of the historical structures of the industry and dynamics around tenure and existing relationships that people have built over a long period of time,” Counsel explains.

Counsel was most surprised to learn what predominantly attracts people to the broking industry. Both male and female respondents agree that ‘flexible working conditions’ is the number one appeal for women, while ‘attractive salary’ is the last consideration.

“You’d think in financial services that salary is always a big appeal for employees, but what the responses are actually showing us is while salary and financial remuneration are important, they’re not necessarily as important as the ability to work in a way that suits one’s individual and diverse needs and also the ability to work for oneself,” she says.

Rose De Rossi, director of Diversifi, says flexibility was a big part of why she became a broker.

“I was working part-time in a bank as a lender and had one child at home. I wanted the flexibility of working from home, dictating my own hours, and wanted to be able to help those clients that I was currently turning away if they didn’t fi t our bank policy,” she says.

That is a common theme among women brokers, which means that providing greater flexibility in training and development will help attract and retain more women. Furthermore, promoting successful and diverse role models should demonstrate to prospective entrants what a career in broking looks like.

Nicole Cannon, director of Pink Finance, says acknowledging that women and men thrive in different environments, and recognising that some women may feel intimidated in a setting dominated by men, is important.

“I think having women-specific events gives women who may not go to a [regular] industry event the chance to share their experiences and increase their contacts in the industry,” Cannon says.

The MFAA is now planning to hold focus groups with industry participants around the country to unpack the survey data and collect more detailed feedback to support the numbers. Once that is completed, the MFAA will develop strategic recommendations and initiatives that organisations can implement in their own workplaces to make them more inclusive.

The MFAA is planning to release the first report in late September after getting feedback from more than 50 industry workshop participants.

“The report showed that many in the industry responded [to questions] with ‘unsure’, and from a research point of view this presents an opportunity for change across the industry. If we create a more inclusive industry culture then you will by default create opportunities for broader diversity,” Counsel says.