I have shared previously about the incredibly rewarding work that I’ve been doing with my amazing female finance leader clients. In fact, with all transparency the work has been so impactful that I have been doing it for my male and broader leadership team clients as well, but I have found it has been more impactful for the women. And I think the reason is this: they need it more.
They need it more because they’re outnumbered
Despite the fact that in many countries women represent almost half of the financial services industry, in 2018 only 12.8% of CFO positions were held by women globally. A recent Chief Executive Women (CEW) report did show that despite the woeful portion of women in executive roles, there was some positive shift when it came to women in CFO roles in Australia which has increased from 12% in 2019 to 16 per cent in this month’s reported results.
That said, we still see evidence of the imbalance of gender on a daily basis: not withstanding the up-front challenges of attracting women to the industry, when graduate intakes do happen, we see a pretty equal number of men and women walk through the door. Now take a look to your left and right - how many female peers do you have? What proportion of your leadership team are women? Look up - how many female execs are in your organisation? What portion of the exec team are women?
This context is the reality. Finance is a male dominated environment.
Despite knowing this at a rational level, we forgot to appreciate the impact of this context. The impact of being outnumbered on a day to day basis is two-fold:
Women don’t have the support they need
We forget the potential impact we have on women to come
Women don’t have the support they need
Think about what goes on when something stressful happens with you and your peers at work: when a big problem arises and the leadership team needs to come together to solve it. You’re in a room full of testosterone and without knowing it, you find yourself adjusting your body language and that way of thinking and talking. It can get quite aggressive and bolshy, and whilst it’s exhausting having to put on that mask at work because it’s not your natural style, you’re used to it and you can hold your own.
But with a late night on the horizon to fix the issue you are the only one thinking, ‘Who is going to pick up the kids from daycare? What are they going to eat for dinner? What is something that is easy for my husband to cook’ Because you know what, it’s a complete stereotype but for the most part, the reality is that mental load rests with the woman. So as you’re sitting around the table in full troubleshooting model, you’re the only one also stressing about leaving the room to get on the phone and explaining all of that to your husband.
Here’s another example: think about the situation you find yourself in when you get an email and your stomach clenches with tension and sinks with every word that you read. Where do you turn? You look up and there’s really no role models in your area for you to bounce ideas off (and let’s be honest, they’re really busy with their own team). Discussing it with your staff may not be useful or appropriate given the magnitude or nature of the issue. You look over to those same colleagues…who may help you but will approach it in the same fashion. So you have a choice: do you go back to putting on your big boy pants or do you invest the time and energy taking them through your way of thinking (which is worlds apart from theirs)? It simply exacerbates the problem.
The problem being, we’re on our own.
Without the right support, we don’t flourish.
We forget the potential impact we have...
…on women to come
In the situations I've described above, quite often we can handle it on our own. We can ‘man-up’ and make the big decisions. We can hold our own in a meeting full of white men (I stick out like a sore thumb!). We can chip away at things and create awesome opportunities for ourselves and do our best to strive to get paid what we’re worth. But we sometimes forget: it’s not only about us. It’s about our daughters, nieces, sisters, and all the young women in our office and social network.
You see, I think a lot of the time men don’t mean for this to be the impact. They don’t mean for their unconscious bias to get in the way of their decision making. But like women, they’re only human and the fast pace, constantly changing reality of finance at the moment (and for the foreseeable future) means that unless we make this issue real and tangible, we will inadvertently continue to contribute to it.
I know that’s not the intent of most men: so many of them are married to women, they have daughters, sisters and nieces who they want to empower and be able to have a voice and have the same opportunities they do. It’s just not front of mind for them, it’s not a daily narrative they’re surrounded with and as a result, they simply don’t know how to talk about it.
I believe that women are the change makers. I work and have worked with many of them, and I am driven by my desire to contribute.
When we have greater representation of women in finance leadership roles, we have access to more of the best minds which is at the very core of diversity and inclusion. If we can help women in finance find their voices and amplify their impact we can speak as equals, improve outcomes and do so in a more satisfying and fulfilled way. When organisations want to turn companies into communities, improving fulfilment (not engagement) across the board will increase results and retention.
I was fortunate enough to attend the book launch of the amazing Stella Petrou Concha, who is a client and friend. Her book, ‘Legacy – the Sustainable Development Goals in Action', has its foundations in the UN Global Goals and she opened the launch with a stirring speech about her book about why helping others find their legacy is a key input to elevating human potential. My conviction grew deeper as she took us through her inspiring Legacy workshop.
UN Global Goal #5, 'Gender bias is undermining our social fabric and devalues all of us. It is not just a human rights issue; it is a tremendous waste of the world’s human potential. By denying women equal rights, we deny half the population a chance to live life at its fullest. Political, economic and social equality for women will benefit all the world’s citizens. Together we can eradicate prejudice and work for equal rights and respect for all.'
Which is why we need to amplify the impact of women in finance. They will change the game.
What do I do, you ask? Start the conversation. Share this article. Print it out and talk about it with your boss, your peers, your team. Go and find the other women in finance within your organisation and get their thoughts. They may not agree with some of the assertions that I’ve made, and that’s okay. The key is to start the conversation. Make it real.
Don’t let the women in finance leave your organisation or the industry because they think there’s no other option. Help them have the conversation they need to have to create the change they want to see. And if you can’t help them, find someone who can. If we can do that, we will enable women to perform with purpose, help them understand the contribution they are making to the world through their finance careers and this will help attract other brilliant women into the industry.
Like RBA Governor, Philip Lowe’s, daughter was told in high school, '‘If you have a mother or father with influence, you should ask them what they’re doing to help women.’
Want are you doing to help women in finance?
Who are you going to start this conversation with?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.