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Jun 03, 2019

Women in IR: Furthering the conversation

Women coming from a ‘hard skills’ background are not rewarded as men are, IR Magazine research finds

The experience of women entering IR from an internal corporate finance role is worse than if they come from a communications background. IR Magazine’s latest study of the topic examines this complexity and delves into how women fare against men in the pay, career progress and job fulfillment stakes. 

Titled Women in IR (and published in February 2019), the report follows on from IR Magazine’s 2018 Global Salary & Careers analysis, which reveals that women are less likely than men to become heads of investor relations or earn as much as their male counterparts. 

The Global Salary & Careers report also shows that there has been a marginal improvement in the situation: women, who accounted for 33 percent of IR head jobs in 2016, held 35 percent of the top IR roles in 2018. Looking at salary, the average pay for both men and women is $150,000-$199,999, though the percentage of female IR heads earning above this has decreased. 

This research spawned a year-long dialogue in articles, videos, podcasts and events about how the investor relations profession might close the career progression and pay equity gap. Aiming to go beyond the headline figures and move the narrative along, the Women in IR report strikes up a fresh debate. 

‘Actively talking about [gender inequality in IR] and writing these reports really helps,’ says Shelly Patel, head of IR at Rathbone Brothers, a provider of personalized investment management and wealth management services for private investors and trustees. ‘But we have to be realistic that, in some cases, it is about getting people into these lines of work and it can take time, particularly to get to a senior level. It is absolutely my hope that this changes during my lifetime, and I think making this issue high profile is hugely important to help that change.’ 

Leaping ahead 

As mentioned, the Women in IR report has raised a new and complex issue but, before putting flesh on this bone, it is important to first look at the more current and pertinent problems. 

Firstly, the report highlights that professionals entering IR from the investment community side – a background where ‘hard skills’ are learned – do particularly well, being more likely to be both better paid and attain head of department status. 

But men still take the lead when it comes to career progression: 82 percent from this background become IR heads, compared with just 76 percent of women. Salary expectations for men and women from this background are almost identical, however. 

Speaking to IR Magazine last year, Smooch Repovich Reynolds, managing partner of the IR and corporate communications practice at ZRG Partners, said financial experience is ‘very important’. She said: ‘The management teams we work with and the investment community both tell us it’s a really important piece of knowledge for the top-notch IROs to have. That said, it’s also important for IR professionals to recognize that they need to toggle between financial acumen in business and exceptional communication skills, whether they’re written or verbal.’ 

Secondly, if an individual has a background where ‘soft skills’ are prevalent, such as marketing or communications, he or she is less likely to be highly remunerated or become head of IR. Men are still more likely than women to earn at least $200,000, though only by a narrow margin (17 percent versus 13 percent, respectively), the research shows. Almost two thirds (65 percent) of men with this background are IR heads, compared with 59 percent of women. 

Marina Zakharova de Calero, director of IR at communications consultancy Powerscourt and head of IR at McCarthy & Stone, a retirement housebuilder, argues that the problem behind this is ‘not gender- specific’ but rather more connected to sector. 

‘The IR salary would sit above communications and marketing remuneration [packages] so your negotiating power will come from a lower level,’ she explains. ‘For example, if somebody is coming in from a $250,000 salary they would be looking at decreasing that to $180,000, while someone coming from a $120,000 salary will be happy with $150,000.’ 

Tough reality 

Weighing all the above points, the report finds that the work-related gender differences are starkest for those coming from internal corporate finance. It notes that men from this background have much better salary and career experiences than women. Of the 906 respondents to the report survey, just over a third of women who cross over from corporate finance into investor relations are heads, compared with 60 percent of men. Men from this background also earn significantly more money than women, with the data highlighting that more than half of women earn under $100,000, compared with just three in 10 men. 

Digging deeper into the new but complex issue mentioned earlier, the report highlights that the experience of a woman from an internal corporate finance role is actually worse than if she comes from communications. Salary data from the report shows that a quarter of women with an internal corporate finance background earn in the $100,000-$199,999 bracket, while 40 percent of those entering IR from communications and marketing take home this pay.

Additionally, only 34 percent of women become IR heads if their past role was in internal corporate finance, while 59 percent climb the ranks to the top if they have communications and marketing experience. 

Report author Lloyd Bevan, IR Magazine’s head of research, points out that the gender gap in the experiences of IR professionals from internal corporate finance exist in every region and at all company sizes. It is more pronounced among larger companies and less pronounced in North America, but it is significant everywhere. He adds that the report suggests women are not rewarded for coming from a ‘hard skills’ background in the same way men are. 

All about the value

Calero confesses that she is puzzled by these latter points. ‘It shouldn’t matter what your gender is – what matters is your experience and the value you bring,’ she observes. ‘Boards are now placing more value on investor relations. We’ve moved a long way from where things were when I started 20 years ago.’

Patel agrees: ‘Honestly, I am slightly surprised by the highlighted [issues]. Many IR professionals come from industries that are quite heavily male-dominated. And the introduction of Mifid II – which has strengthened requirements on disclosing information – makes the role of an IR professional even more important.’

For that reason, ‘it’s essential that both men and women grow within the company,’ says Patel, while recognizing that there is no overnight solution. The push for diversity involves attracting talented people and enabling their career path by removing any unconscious bias, she adds. She also emphasizes that more should be done to educate young women at school and university about careers in investor relations.

Job satisfaction

For fulfilment at work, a fifth of men refer to their job function – including pay – while 11 percent mention improved resources. With women, it is one fifth who look for more resources, compared with 14 percent who primarily want an improved job function.

Additional responsibilities

Women are more likely than men to have IR-only jobs, or to have additional communications and PR responsibilities. Men who wear multiple hats will most likely see corporate strategy added to their remit. More than a quarter of men with this responsibility earn at least $200,000, compared with just 15 percent of women.


This article was published in the summer 2019 issue of IR Magazine

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