In early March, the FTSE Women Leaders Review reported its target of reaching the 40%
of women on boards had been achieved three years early. While a significant feat for the UK’s top businesses, the number of women CFOs among the top 50 remains low (20%).
The review zooms in on 400 of the biggest public-listed and private companies in the UK, emphasising many need to be faster to act and play their part in the search for gender balance. Specifically it notes there are many bystanders and too few up-standers leading the change.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, the CFO spoke to senior male financial leaders who agreed there are no shortcuts to achieving sustainable change, and that they too have a role to play.
A call for allies
Tim Schöler, CFO at Mercedes Benz says that as much as we celebrate women on IWD, businesses need male allies if they are to achieve gender equality. “We need more men who are willing to listen, learn, and take action to support women’s rights,” he says.
“Male allies can help break down gender stereotypes, advocate for women’s representation in leadership positions, and call out sexist behaviour in their personal and professional lives. They can also create more inclusive workplaces and communities that value diversity and equality.”
Milk & More’s CFO Billie O’Connor, who recently created a peer-to-peer group for women in finance, also believes men should be doing more to level the playing field for their female colleagues.
“Senior male colleagues have a critical role in championing women and promoting a level playing field,” she tells the CFO. “For instance, if there is a fantastic job opportunity, and you are not present in the room, a peer or senior colleague who knows you are the best person for the role should advocate for you and ensure that you are considered.”
O’Connor says internal sponsors are crucial but adds that women should be confident, seek mentoring and sponsorship with senior leaders and “be proactive.”
“Senior male leaders can support by ensuring all colleagues are being considered for roles and championing diversity at senior level,” says O’Connor.
Mohammed Ahmed, financial director at Ice Telecommunications, says it is concerning that women have been charged with being the driving force toward gender balance.
“My view is fairly strong that we are missing half the population who can help,” he says. “So why concentrate on half? You need the men to help promote diversity and inclusivity, push it, and help drive it and speak positively about it.”
Ahmed has observed that women continued to occupy mid-management roles, but a significant gap existed at the C-Suite level. “There is a lack. What can we do about it? We need to be talking about it and be more open; there needs to be more transparency of what’s driving the gap,” says Ahmed.
Across Ice Telecommunications’ eight-member senior leadership team, two are women.
Himanshu Kher, CFO at Axi tells the CFO that now more than ever, the C-Suite needed to be better allies not just to women on International Women’s Day but to everyone, every day.
“It starts by breaking all conscious and unconscious biases towards everyone and offering the same access and opportunities to all,” Kher says, explaining that for Axi, following an unbiased approach when recruiting saw the company shortlist women who had emerged as clear leadership candidates.
He adds that while having policies aimed at driving gender equality within finance was key, it did not always result in a change in behaviour from leadership, as they will often find exceptions to the policy.
“Some of the biggest challenges facing women leaders in finance is the false belief that women are not serious about leadership roles in finance,” Kher explains. “Male colleagues can help by consciously breaking hiring biases and hire based on merit as opposed to factors based on DEI.”
Kher stresses that every company must take actions that go “above and beyond” a policy and try to attract the best talent irrespective of gender.
Meanwhile Megan Oxman who is the interim president, Digital Wallets says its critical critical that women are represented at all levels to foster an open and diverse organisation.
“To achieve this, we must focus on retaining female talent and supporting their advancement. Research shows that the “broken rung” is helping women achieve their first step into management per a Women in the Workforce report by McKinsey, for every 100 men promoted past entry level in the US, only 87 women are promoted.
“We also know that offering workplace flexibility, especially in a post-COVID world, is critical to attract and retain women: the McKinsey report notes 49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company, compared to 34% of men leaders.”