As a regional ambassador of the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Banking since 2019, the EBF adopted the Women’s Empowerment Principles the same year and started implementing them across four workstreams that reflect all the different ways in which we can make a difference across society. This builds on previous commitments such as becoming a signatory to the European Commission’s Digital4her

Role of the Banking Sector in Women’s Financial Empowerment

Banks have a unique opportunity to speed up progress in society through their roles as employers and as finance providers to their communities. We can help banks become better employers of men and women and provide finance to wider segments of society. Moreover, as the umbrella federation of the national banking associations, the EBF has an additional opportunity to be more inclusive in the way it gathers input and presents the banking sector view and promote best practices for banking associations as trade associations and as employers themselves.

Banks’ role is unique because a bank touches the lives of women in many different ways – as employees, shareholders, investors, clients, providers of services – and each relationship is a chance to push equality forward a little more. When we take action, we have an amplifying impact on society like no other. More diverse banks serve more diverse clients – who in turn employ new people, open new businesses, and find new solutions to complex problems. Exactly what we need as we try to recover from the current COVID crisis, and face urgent societal, economic and global challenges.

Addressing the gender gap in banking

And yet we know there is a gender gap in banking: in leadership positions, in women’s use of financial services, investment, entrepreneurial activity, savings upon retirement, financial literacy, as well as high tech jobs.  Women hold less than 20 percent of board seats of banks and banking-supervision agencies worldwide and represent less than 2 percent of bank CEOs. Of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults, 56 percent are women. Only 2 percent of venture capital is invested in women-led start-ups; women-led SMEs are 30 percent less likely to access sufficient funding; pension products may not be suitable to people who interrupt their careers; hidden bias in data might be replicated in automation, and digitalisation of finance might make it more difficult for women without digital financial literacy.

Individually, banks are working hard every day toward greater equality.  Many banks have taken concrete public steps to advance equality for their employees, in their supply chains and in their communities. Many banking associations are also actively coordinating among their banks. Overall, European banking is already diverse and getting more so. But progress is not happening quickly enough in Europe or elsewhere. At this pace, women around the world will have equality in 250 years. This is not acceptable! The world must make faster progress on social goals – and COVID has made it even more important to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality.

EBF adopted the Women’s Empowerment Principles

And now is the time to scale up our efforts. This is why the EBF adopted the Women’s Empowerment Principles to generate opportunities for women in all the ways in which they interact with our banks. This is a pioneering framework developed by the UN Global Compact and UN Women. As a community of 3500 banks, large and small, wholesale and retail, local and international, we can – and will – make a difference for our 2 million employees, for our clients in Europe and around the world, and for our communities.  

 As one of the first federations ever to adopt the WEPs, we are setting a model for the sector. Building on the work of individual banks and banking associations that have already endorsed the WEPs or other charters, our ambition is to help banks learn from one another, to ensure that good practices reach every corner of the world, and to accelerate the journeys of our associations and banks.  

With the EBF implementing the Women’s Empowerment Principles, we will be setting a model for sectoral coordination and progress in the representation of women’s interests in finance, their use of finance, and of course their careers in finance. This will accelerate the journeys of our banking associations and banks. With or without a specific gender programme, progress is happening; but with our efforts, best practices, policies, data and knowledge will spread more quickly. For example, we are increasing the representation of women in our internal and external activities, campaigning on the financial literacy gap, and starting a discussion on the impact of COVID on diversity, women’s banking and other urgent issues. In all of these projects, gender is the primary lens, but we will also look at diversity and inclusion from other angles, in terms of background, race, age, and others. 

Economic benefits of gender equality

Taken together, these efforts will bear fruit. Equality boosts incomes. According to the World Bank, the world could gain 172 trillion USD in a “gender dividend”. The EU estimates that GDP per capita could increase by 6-10% (2-3 trillion Eur) with gender equality. At a micro-level too, diversity and inclusion is good for companies’ bottom line.

And this is true for banks, too. More diverse banks serve their clients better and make more money. More women on bank board is good for bank stability, financial resilience and higher profitability. Recently it was calculated that global banks could make billions of more revenues every year, especially from SME loans and loans to retail clients. Gains for the insurance sector would be even bigger.

And ultimately finance itself has an amplifying impact on society because more diverse banks serve more diverse clients – which in turn employ new people and open new businesses. Exactly what we need as we try to recover our economies from the crisis.

In conclusion:

• European banks are actively working on gender equality. This is a key part of a broader strategy of diversity and inclusion;

• The EBF is now coordinating these efforts with the use of a global framework. It is vital to speed up progress on gender equality because it will help meet the urgent societal, economic and global challenges we face, from COVID recovery to climate change. Men and women from all backgrounds, races and ages must be able to contribute to solutions that make the world a better place.

How are we implementing the WEPs?

We can make a difference in four different ways:

  • First, the project of sharpening the diversity within the EBF as a company, reviewing processes and helping reinforce a diverse and inclusive company culture
  • Second, the project of increasing the number of women in our internal and external activities, so that the banking view we represent is itself more inclusive
  • Third, the task of encouraging banks and banking associations to sign the WEPs. For example, our members from Belgium and Luxembourg have recently signed the WEPs, while our Austrian member is implementing a similar project.
  • And fourth, the dimension of women’s banking, where we will aim to become the hub of knowledge and good practices for serving all clients better, possibly through better-adapted products and services, and ultimately with a greater client focus and gender neutrality.

What are EBF and its member associations doing?

New Inclusion in Finance Campaign October – 2021


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