Finance leaders have been joined by other business heads and politicians in backing this week’s women in finance breakfast event.
The summit, organised by Financial Director (identified online as #FDFemaleLeaders) in association with Bronzegate, will provide an urgent debate on why there aren’t enough women entering C-suite roles.
It comes as the government-backed Hampton-Alexander review of UK boardroom diversity reveals a drop in the number of women in senior executive roles, including the number of female CEOs in the FTSE-350 falling from 15 to 12.
Penny James, CFO of FTSE-100 general insurer Direct Line says: “Events like this really matter because there is still a lot that needs to be done to ensure there are higher levels of female C-suite representation. In my early career I wasn’t aware that being a woman could or would have any impact on my success, whereas now it is very clear.”
James says “it is important to be conscious of who you are, how you operate and how the world around you operates. You need to have the courage to say no but you probably need more courage to say yes because it might not be the safe option”, she says.
“When you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, who knows what you could achieve. I’m sorry that I can’t make it because I know the value of taking time away from your day job to share experiences, expand your networks, learn from the people around you, join new conversations and be cheerleaders for each other. We’ll never solve the C-suite problem by working in isolation and I look forward to hearing the ideas generated,” adds James.
Angela Mazza Tefur, senior vice president, Western Europe, of technology group Oracle, says: “CFOs are now involved in digital transformation, and advise on growth strategies and M&A.
“This broadening of responsibilities makes the new CFO a stronger and more valued business partner to the CEO. This evolution will attract more women to these positions providing a new route to the Board. We now need to keep sharing the stories of those who have,” she says.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable says: “All the progress made on promoting women on to boards has all but disappeared in the last two or three years because of a lack of commitment from the Conservatives and some companies. Events like Financial Director’s Women in Finance are important in keeping this campaign going.”
Need for collaboration
Accountancy bodies ICAEW, AICPA-CIMA and ACCA are united in expressing the need for the event taking place at London’s Sea Containers House on 15 November, featuring a speech by 30% Club founder Dame Helena Morrissey.
Michael Izza, ICAEW chief executive, says: “To maximise the contribution of women to the finance sector, we all need to collaborate, across business, education and in professional bodies and that is why initiatives like the Financial Director Women in Finance breakfast is so important.
“At ICAEW, we have worked to minimise women leaving the profession during career breaks, for example by applying greatly reduced subscriptions, and by running events for returners to work.
We know that many accountancy firms, having invested in their female workforce, are reluctant to lose this talent and therefore encourage returning to work programs and support flexible working too.
“We have championed leadership development for women, organising programmes to position themselves for career advancement, and to maximise existing skills that will help them be seen as natural successors or leaders,” he adds.
Andrew Harding, chief executive – management accounting, at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, says: “As the voice of professional accountants worldwide, representing over 667,000 members and students, we believe a diverse and inclusive profession is a sustainable profession.
“As a whole, the finance sector has made progress in supporting women and building a more diverse workforce but significant differences still persist, especially in senior positions. Plenty of young female graduates join the finance sector but many do not progress beyond the mid-tier or leave the sector entirely.
“We fully support initiatives aimed at getting more women into financial leadership positions. They are important to driving the sector towards a more diverse, inclusive and sustainable future for our profession.”
ACCA CEO Helen Brand says the event is an important and timely exploration of what is standing in the way of women reaching the top in finance. “In 2018, we should be doing much better. Over half of ACCA’s 503,000 students are female and all our research shows they have the same expectations of career progression as men,” she says.
“We therefore need to understand the core underlying reasons for the paucity of female finance leaders across the FTSE 350. Only by identifying and discussing the barrier and enablers – and taking urgent action – will we solve this dilemma once and for all and unleash the full potential of the UK’s finance talent,” says Brand.