Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » 100 Group chairman pushes for more top female CFOs

The outgoing chairman of the 100 Group of FDs Andrew Bonfield has criticised corporates that don’t encourage more women to become group level CFOs.

Andrew Bonfield, the outgoing CFO of power distribution giant National Grid, said: “Companies and boards just have to get used to this idea that people’s careers aren’t moving at the same pace and same direction, at the same time, and take a bit of risk occasionally- and promote women into more senior roles.”

The comments come after findings earlier this year by Financial Director that a rising trend in the number of FTSE-100 female CFOs had come to an end with a fall in the last few months.

Then only ten firms in the elite group of UK listed companies featured female finance chiefs, down from 12 last year. That number has increased with the appointment of Margherita Della Valle to CFO of telecoms group Vodafone after finance head Nick Read became CEO, but the overall figure is still off last year’s high point.

Bonfield said on female FTSE 100 CFO numbers: “It’s pretty poor. It’s the same thing in [accountancy firm] partnerships. I worked for the first female partner at PwC, Mary Keegan 30 years ago, and it still hasn’t translated yet through.

“The Big Four have got better because they do allow career breaks now, but I think big companies still lag. If you think about the number of female CEOs- female CFOs should be ahead,” said Bonfield who is ending his chairmanship of the 100 Group when he moves to the US later this year to become CFO of engineering giant Caterpillar.

Helen Brand OBE, Chief Executive of accountancy body ACCA said of the fall in senior female CFOs: “We have a commitment to diversity, so I’ll admit it’s concerning, and somewhat puzzling.  Over the same period, we’ve seen the proportion of female ACCA members and students steadily increase – in the UK, 43% of our members are female and it’s 46% globally. When we look at ACCA students globally, we now have more women (56%) than men. So if these talented young women are not being able to progress in the same way, that’s a loss to the corporate world.

“We need to understand the core underlying reasons for this lack of representation at FTSE CFO level as my sense is that the profession is an attractive career for women – and our figures bear this out. We have 92,000 female members and 272,000 female students so we need to understand the barriers being put up. And you just have to look at our Council to see that senior women have a strong presence – there are 21 women, and 15 men,” added Brand.

Brand said it’s important everyone is given the opportunity to rise to the highest levels. “Diversity is good for business – evidence suggests that the presence of women on company boards actively promotes the cause of good governance, sound management and possibly also enhanced business performance. Greater diversity can lead to better decision making, better adherence to corporate governance, and greater innovation and creativity, and less ‘group think’,” she said.

Accountancy firms are key enablers and are see as playing a key role in making change happen, said Brand. “I see them being fair and open in their recruitment practices, and then how people develop within the practice. But the firms are just one route to CFO roles – the corporate sector needs to look at itself, how it develops its own talent pipeline and whether it is hindering women from getting to these top positions.

“Quite simply, by providing a finance qualification that’s recognised the world over as a sign of professionalism and financial prowess. But it’s also the support we offer as a professional membership body – the networks we have and the connections we make can be really helpful and help create new avenues for our members,” she added.

In 2012, ACCA published a research report called Women in finance: a springboard to corporate board positions? which revealed that women who got to board level were strategic and planned about their aspirations – they had great CVs with the skills, knowledge and abilities, including securing credibility in finance – skills clearly attractive at board level. But they also had to work hard to build their network. This research showed that women need to be motivated, driven, determined and also known to get a foot into the boardroom.