The markets watchdog said that despite high-profile initiatives to boost the number of women in leading roles, there have been only pockets of progress.
The number of women in senior roles at financial services firms in Britain has flatlined since 2005 despite diversity "rhetoric" from industry, according to research from the Financial Conduct Authority.
The markets watchdog said on Friday that despite bold targets and high-profile initiatives to boost the number of women in leading roles, there have been only pockets of progress.
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The proportion of women in so-called approved persons roles - those responsible for key aspects of a company such as systems and controls - and more recently those vetted under the new senior managers regime was 17% in UK financial services in 2019, almost unchanged since 2005, the research showed.
The FCA's large database gives it a reliable basis for estimating gender diversity at the overall level, the watchdog said.
There has been a degree of improvement at some unnamed systemically important banks, taking this group to just above a low overall industry average, but other sectors remain "the same old boys' clubs that they ever were", the research said.
"Overall then the picture is sobering: for all the rhetoric and conspicuous effort by some firms, the upper echelons of many financial services businesses remain as undiverse today as back in 2005," the research said.
Many of the firms that have above-average diversity are signatories of the British finance ministry's Women in Finance charter, it said.
The charter was launched in 2016 to encourage gender diversity and now has over 350 signatories covering 800,000 employees in the financial sector.
Under the charter, firms set their own targets and implementation strategies for increasing the number of senior women in their organisation, and agree to publicly report on progress.
An update on the charter's progress for the finance ministry in July said a shortage of senior women, particularly with backgrounds in technology and investment, could frustrate efforts to reach diversity objectives.
Continued male domination of the sector was also deterring women from entering financial services in the first place, and some firms don't want to feel obliged to hire a woman when a woman departs, said the update, which was compiled by the New Financial think-tank after surveying the charter's signatories.
Encouraging women to apply for senior roles was challenging as firms "fished" in the same limited pool, contributors to the update said.
UK Finance, the trade body for banks in Britain, said firms recognise the importance of having a fair and inclusive workplace. However, there is more work to be done, which is why it and many of its members have signed the charter, it said.
The FCA said that investment management firms showed most diversity, with the most prominent and successful women in finance working as wealth managers.
Brokerages were the least diverse, it said.
The FCA said on Friday that representation of women in its own senior leadership team was 40% by March this year, and it has a target of parity by 2025.