Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

Driving the diversity dialogue

Group photo of the Women in Treasury New York Forum 2017 panel

On Thursday 14th October 2017, Treasury Today hosted the second New York installation of our Women in Treasury Forum. A fresh new format with fantastic, energetic panellists was the order of the day at The Pierre hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

Attendees from the world of treasury, technology and finance gathered to network, share ideas and discuss points arising from the 2017 Women in Treasury Global Study. They also came, of course, to hear from the panel, a line-up comprised of five industry experts:

  • Susan Mercer, Vice President, Assistant Treasurer, Cargill, Incorporated

  • Jenifer Herdin, Vice President, International Treasury, Viacom

  • Mary Gilbert, Treasury Manager, Duracell

  • Karen Gilhooly, Executive Vice President, Global Liquidity and Cash Management, Head of Client Management – North America, HSBC

  • Eric Houser, Executive Vice President, Head of Technology, Media and Telecom Corporate Banking Group, Wells Fargo

The forum couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment in the US, coming towards the end of a year of global political developments that have made the conversation around diversity and inclusion more important than ever. With women’s rights, and indeed human rights, being challenged, and with female representation in the US falling at the highest government and institutional levels, now is the moment for women to make their voices heard.

The day began with a networking drinks reception and a speech from Meg Coates, Associate Publisher EMEA & Americas, Treasury Today Group, who highlighted key findings from the 2017 Women in Treasury Global Study. Three hundred and fifty-two female corporates from across the world participated in the study, which sits at the heart of the Women in Treasury initiative and maps the treasury profession’s path to diversity.

Group shot of panellists on stage

The subsequent panel discussion focused on some of the key themes raised by the study respondents. Moderated by Sophie Jackson, Associate Group Publisher, Treasury Today Group, the conversation centred around what the terms diversity and inclusion really mean for a modern US corporate audience. The panel also addressed issues of visibility for women and minorities. Honing in on the specifics of corporate treasury and finance, and highlighting the stumbling blocks to greater representation, the panel’s overwhelming tone was energetic and determined, with many impactful calls to action for the audience.

“Women have historically faced greater barriers than men when it comes to participating in the workforce. Initiatives such as Women in Treasury are geared towards eliminating disparities and providing opportunities for women to advance within the workplace.”

Eugenia Solache, Director International Treasury, CBS

Understanding diversity

After lunch, the panel discussion kicked off with an assessment of what ‘diversity’ meant for the panellists as modern professionals in the US. Eric Houser of Wells Fargo commented that diversity means representation and that we cannot speak of diversity without thinking of inclusion – in other words, listening to the representation around the table. He pointed out that it is one thing to get people around the table, and another thing to listen to what they all have to say.

Susan Mercer added that over the course of her 25-year career at Cargill she has seen the dialogue around diversity shift and evolve, with people now thinking more about diversity of thought and diversity of experience.

Room full of people for the drinks reception

Diversity of thought – in other words, diversity in the way you think and the things that you think – and diversity of experience are good places to start in order to get diversity in teams. However she pointed out that the talent pool is still not as varied as it needs to be and there is still work to be done.

On the theme of diversity in the workplace, Karen Gilhooly of HSBC stated that an ideal working environment brings different people together and gives them the chance to share their experiences and ideas. She explained that this should mean focusing on diversity of thought, rather than an arbitrary concept of what a diverse group looks like. By looking for a certain type of individual, people run the risk of creating the opposite of a diverse environment.

Achieving visibility

Mary Gilbert of Duracell moved the conversation to focus on visibility, explaining that, for her, visibility means exposure. She went on to add that sometimes people simply work hard and hope that the hard work will be noticed. However, if they are not “kicking doors down” and showing management what they are capable of, they may miss an opportunity for advancement. In a competitive work environment, it is therefore crucial that people demonstrate their capabilities to others.

Jenifer Herdin of Viacom added to the topic of women’s visibility by using the analogy of a pipeline. Talent is brought in at the start, but as women progress through their careers they start to miss key developments and promotions at a managerial level. Higher up in the organisation, men start to outnumber the women two-to-one, with representation then decreasing even further, explained Herdin.

Different roles and different locations

Susan Mercer’s career at Cargill has seen her gain experience in a wide range of roles and work in different locations over the course of her career. When asked in the panel discussion about the importance of rotation and mobility for a treasurer’s career advancement, Mercer explained that there are many different roles which are integral to treasury. Having experience across cash management and debt capital markets, and having experience of different geographies, is incredibly valuable.

Mercer explained that she had also spent time working in Asia, which brought a completely different experience compared to working for a North American company based in North America. Having the willingness to experience something different and learn new skills had, she felt, been important for her career development.

Photos of Sophie Jackson, Susan Mercer and Karen Gilhooly

Karen Gilhooly spoke of the importance of flexibility, or ‘balancing’, over the course of her career in banking. Gilhooly shared the experience at the beginning of her career of being placed in a role which included travelling. With none of today’s communication capabilities available to her, she needed to learn from the very beginning how to balance different aspects of life. After having her first child at the midpoint of her career, Gilhooly adjusted and relished the opportunity to figure out how to balance things, making compromises from time to time.

Flexibility

The panel was in agreement around the very real importance of flexibility for all in the workplace, men and women. At different stages of people’s lives and careers, they may need more or less time in the office. People may get ill; they may have responsibilities – and it is paramount that they receive the support they need from their organisations at these different stages. That is how companies can retain their talent and get the best out of their staff.

Seeking opportunities

On the subject of personal development and guidance, Jenifer Herdin’s advice was to seek more opportunities and to ask for feedback. When coming out of university, people are typically used to being graded, receiving feedback and having a dialogue. Then, in the workplace, they may have just one appraisal a year, where they are subject to one person’s opinion. So seeking out feedback more willingly is useful, she said.

Additionally, raising your hand for projects and opportunities at work is very important. Herdin explained that the person who raises their hand is not always the most qualified, and that many people can struggle with this. People should put themselves out there and brand themselves so that when projects arise they are uppermost in mind, she stated.

Mary Gilbert spoke of the journey not ending once you are given a seat at the table. If you have a seat at the table, you have a voice – and you should really use it, Gilbert explained. If you can’t use your seat at the table in a proactive way, let someone else take the seat, she added.

Leading the way

Gilbert also shared her experiences of being mentored by inspiring professionals over the course of her career. Most memorable was when she spoke of her own work mentoring young, at-risk pupils at her old high school in Chicago. Gilbert described it as one of the highlights of her life to be able to inspire young people to use their voice and to break the mould. She spoke of a recent mentee who had historically struggled with authority but who had recently been accepted to become a police offer in Chicago. This story was greeted by a round of high fives for Gilbert from the other panellists!

Mary Gilbert, Eric Houser and Jenifer Herdin

Eric Houser followed up with his own experiences of working with the next generation of professionals. As is common in the technology space in San Francisco, Houser works alongside millennials. He explained that this generation is often described as “entitled” – but he disagreed that this is the case, noting that millennials have simply grown up in a different style and that it is incumbent upon older professionals to adapt.

He added that this millennial mindset doesn’t fit the corporate environment per se, but that companies must adapt and accommodate as best they can or they will not have a workforce of millennials. The other important part of this dynamic, explained Houser, is listening to millennials. If you neglect to have the millennial decision-making perspective in your companies, he said, you are missing a very large piece of the future.

Whether seeking out a mentor or just looking for general guidance, the importance of being bold, reaching out and just asking somebody for a cup of coffee was highlighted by both Jenifer Herdin and Susan Mercer. They noted that when people are in companies where a formal mentoring programme may not be available, it can be unclear how people can take matters into their own hands.

Several of the panellists also spoke of the importance of managing upwards as well as downwards. They explained that people should ask for what they need from their bosses and give them a chance to adjust before giving up. Likewise, the panellists noted that if people encounter a problematic dynamic with any of their seniors, they should explain these difficulties.

Photos of women networking and getting involved

Takeaways

At the end of a fantastic afternoon full of inspiring anecdotes, the main takeaways from those in the room were around the importance of speaking out, using your voice and presence, and taking and earning your seat at the table. There was also a passionate message around the importance of giving back to the next generation and pushing forward to create a better working future for all.

About the Women in Treasury initiative

The Women in Treasury initiative was established to support, inspire and raise the profile of women in our industry.

The initiative now encompasses regular profiles of women in the industry, forums around the world, an annual global study and our dedicated LinkedIn Women in Treasury community. Within our Adam Smith Awards programme, the initiative also includes a Women of the Year award, which recognises exceptional female achievement in treasury. Since its inception, the initiative has evolved to encompass a wider dialogue around diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity in the corporate space.

If you would like to learn more about our Women in Treasury initiative please don’t hesitate to reach out to us wit@treasurytoday.com