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Who can jump higher?

A novel survey conducted in June by organisers Richmond Events at the Finance Directors’ Forum on board the Arcadia found many similarities – and some quite striking differences – between the sexes.

Of the 200-plus FDs who attended the event, 138 completed the survey questionnaire. The split was 90% male, 10% female (ignoring the 3% who didn’t specify), with an average age of 44. Given the relatively few women who took part there has to be a certain allowance for statistical margins of error relating to female responses, but we can at least confirm that the 90/10 gender split closely matches that of Financial Director subscribers.

About two-thirds of men didn’t think there was a glass ceiling in their organisation as far as promotions are concerned – two-thirds of women agreed. However, although two-thirds of men didn’t think there was a glass ceiling on pay, two-thirds of women said there was.

Intriguingly, most men thought there was “a policy of true gender equality” at their organisation – but barely a third thought women were “well-represented at senior level” – so much for true gender equality. One-in-seven male FDs, and one-in-12 women, said they would prefer their immediate boss to be the same sex.

So, while most women feel they can go as far as their capabilities can take them, they don’t feel they’ll be rewarded commensurately. At the same time, almost two-thirds of men and women agree they receive an “adequate” salary, with a further 10% or so saying they have a “generous” salary.

More surprising is the finding that women appear to have greater pay ambitions than men: women FDs expect to earn £144,200 in salary and bonuses in three years’ time, while men expect just £127,400. But, looking five years ahead, men hope for £161,500, a little higher than women’s expectations of £159,400.

Given the pay glass ceiling, how do women expect to earn so much money?

By moving to another company. Only 40% of male FDs expect to move (a) into the same sort of job in a bigger organisation or (b) into a bigger job at a new organisation – but 56% of women expect to do so as the next step in their career. Men are much more likely than women to expect a bigger job with their current employer. About 5% of all FDs hope to start their own business.

There were some interesting differences between the sexes regarding the influence of the FD and how to get the job done. Nearly half of the men thought they “definitely” influenced the board’s decision-making process, but less than a third of women held the same opinion. Women were more likely to believe they influenced the board “to a large extent”. A third of FDs said that they only have “limited” influence.

These findings appear odd given that almost all FDs – 87% overall – said that they had sufficient access to the main board members: so why are FDs (women in particular) not always so certain about their powers of influence? Modesty, perhaps?

Another odd result was the finding that 92% of women say they have sufficient access to main board members – but only 77% said they had sufficient access to the CEO or MD. About a third of FDs said that their board’s decision-making process was too remote, while almost half – 46% – didn’t think their board is fully articulating a compelling vision of the organisation’s future.

The survey listed a number of factors that might improve life for the FD. A quarter said that less office politics would be their first choice on how to make things better, while women FDs were even more strongly in favour of fewer meetings than men. Men tended to prefer “less cumbersome decision-making processes” – which we hesitate to suggest might be code for “Let’s do it my way and do it now.”

Most men regard their current work-life balance as acceptable, with about a quarter saying it’s not, but they’re prepared to tolerate it for now.

Women were less content – but with a surprising result: they were more likely than men to prefer to earn less money in exchange for more leisure – but they were also more likely than men to prefer to sacrifice leisure to earn more. Men and women broadly agreed that stress was an occasional part of their working lives and that it could act as a welcome stimulant.

Just under 20% thought stress was constant and undermined their effectiveness.

Some thought stress was a symbol of self-importance. A few said stress was invented by consultants; one even said, “Stress is imaginary, got up to disguise idleness or stupidity.”

Maybe a little more stress is needed: many FDs said making their work less boring would improve their productivity, while 80% said it would improve profitability. More than half of women – but barely a quarter of men – claimed their superiors feared creative, off-the-wall people.

Almost 40% of women said the non-exec directors had the most clout in the boardroom, whereas men tended to regard sales and marketing as being most influential (finance was excluded as an option from this list). Everyone – but particularly the men – regarded sales and marketing as the most innovative, though men had higher regard for the CEO than women did; women were more likely to regard the non-execs as innovative. Fewer than 10% of FDs thought IT was the most innovative.

Who’s your friend? Opinions were evenly split as to whether HR, sales and marketing, operations or IT were the finance person’s closest ally.

But 40% said sales and marketing was most likely to “ambush” finance, given half a chance. Many more women than men were trusting, believing no department would deliberately ambush them.

The survey listed some potential role models for our children and asked whether FDs were positive, neutral or negative about each. Harry Potter author JK Rowling scored well, as did Sir Richard Branson (but a third felt quite neutral about him). Kylie Minogue scored more highly than Tony Blair – and not just amongst the men. Women were more likely to have strong feelings about Margaret Thatcher – both positive and negative – than men.

And 100% of women regarded David Beckham as a positive role model – a feeling shared by barely 70% of men.

When asked a similar question about organisations, women had nothing positive to say about football broadcaster Sky Television. They, like the men, preferred the NSPCC. Men felt more favourably toward the monarchy than women, who had more upbeat feelings about the police and Virgin Group.

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