Over the past few years, there has been a loud and inspiring push for gender equality around the world. Almost every industry, profession, and major company now operates their own diversity initiative or programme. These are joined by a variety of high-profile global campaigns, such as the recent UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, supported by public figures and global leaders alike.
Aside from raising awareness of the issues and promoting a change for the better, these initiatives are having a wider impact on how society views the debate. Gender equality is now a serious global issue that is gaining traction among governments, industry bodies, employers and employees alike.
As part of this shift, there has been a noticeable change in outlook to an open-minded – and less divided – view that individuals should be recognised on their own merits (rather than on fixed stereotypes). There are tangible indicators of this happening as well; more women are on corporate boards than ever before and the gender pay gap is at its lowest, according to the UK Institute of Fiscal Studies. For many businesses, creating a gender-equal workforce has moved from being a ‘nice to have’, to an economically beneficial priority.
Despite this progress, women are still hugely underrepresented in the upper echelons of companies around the world. The Treasury Today 2016 Women in Treasury Global Study highlighted that 29% of women believe that they still earn less than their male counterparts. It is clear from this perception alone that there is still much more to be done.
Driving the debate forward
Ensuring that the momentum behind the gender equality movement continues to build is one of the key objectives of Treasury Today’s pioneering Women in Treasury initiative. Established in 2013, the initiative exists to support, inspire and raise the profile of women and address larger issues of diversity in our industry. Comprised of an annual global study, profiles of senior female corporates and bankers, community social networks and forums held around the world, the initiative has received overwhelming support since its inception and continues to do so.
The latest European Women in Treasury Forum, held in the historic surrounds of Gibson Hall in the heart of the City of London highlighted this. The event saw over 180 senior financial professionals, including a healthy number of men, from Europe, the Americas and Asia gather to network and learn from each other’s experiences.
It was interesting to hear the thoughts of the many senior professionals in attendance during the pre-lunch networking reception and it was clear that change is occurring. This was most notable by the fact that the conversations no longer centred around the usual female-focused topics of childcare and flexible working – although these remain important issues – and instead focused on the practical steps taken to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.
This theme continued in the dynamic and lively panel debate facilitated by Sophie Jackson, Associate Group Publisher at Treasury Today Group. The discussion was defined by the open and honest views of those involved. The panellists offered many personal and thoughtful insights into diversity, the progress that is being made and what more needs to be done.
This year’s panel comprised:
Rana Fayez El-Hajjar, Treasurer, Qatargas.
Lucie Harwood, Head of Treasury and Investor Relations, Laird plc.
Ebru Pakcan, Head of Global Payments and Receivables, Treasury and Trade Solutions, Citi.
Julia Persson, Head of Cash Management, GTS, Large Corporates and Institutions, Swedbank.
A diverse team
The session kicked off with an informative discussion around how to best build a diverse team, something which the panel agreed transcended the gender debate. Rana Fayez El-Hajjar, Treasurer, Qatargas, led this topic and suggested that race, religion, nationality, socio-economic background, personality type and learning style were just a few of the other considerations that must be included in order to form a truly diverse team. By doing so the company is more likely to achieve greater customer engagement, innovation and productivity, all of which will positively impact profitability, she says.
But how to get there? Rana advised that diversity can be encouraged in several ways. “First, business leaders must develop their own cultural competence, uncovering and reducing their own unconscious biases,” she says. “From this base, actively soliciting input from the various members of your diverse teams helps to foster inclusivity and ensures that differing opinions and thoughts are considered when solving complex problems or making important decisions. Encourage the introvert, the extrovert, even the pessimist to share their thoughts.”
Other practical steps can also be taken. Rana, for instance, recommends that a diverse range of candidates as well as a diverse interviewing panel is present when hiring. “You must make sure you don’t simply employ people who are a mirror image of yourself, however,” she warns. “The best teams are those that comprise people with a wide range of personalities and skills.”
However, in her view, it is great leadership that is most important to realise the benefits of diversity. She closed by saying: “To build a great team you need to have great leadership. If you care about building a diverse and high-performing team, then you have to think about what the practical steps are that you can take to prevent unconscious bias creeping in and how you can foster an environment in which your team complements each other and can thrive through active collaboration, not peaceful co-existence.”
Next on the agenda was finding ‘male allies’, an increasingly important topic at our global forums in 2016, which is actively seeking to bring men and women together in the discussion. Ebru Pakcan, Global Head of Payments and Receivables at Citi spoke at length on this subject and the debate ebbed and flowed between the assessment of how the different individuals perform and behave in the workplace and how women have historically not been valued as much as they should have been.
Unconscious bias was again a key component of the debate with combatting it seeming to be imperative for progress. Ebru stated that bringing more men into the discussion could be the key to moving the discussion and general progress forward. “The only way for a minority to succeed is to interact with the majority and involve them in the debate,” says Ebru. “In doing so we can find out what their thoughts are on the subject and why they act as they do. By doing this you can make them aware of their bias and begin to enact change.”
Ebru highlighted, however, that by including men in the debate women are not looking for “male saviours and for men to come in and solve women’s problems”. Instead what is being sought is “male allies” and men and women coming together for mutual benefit. “If we make men aware that gender bias is an issue for both men and women,” Ebru adds, “and if men recognise that we have a common goal then we can all galvanise around it.”
Ebru sees progress on the horizon. “There is a whole group of millennials entering the workforce at present,” she says. “What their expectations are and how they think and act when it comes to topics such as diversity are very different from what has been the norm. I see this then being a great opportunity for organisations to harness their way of thinking and drive this throughout the business.”
Further solutions to removing gender bias were offered in the next stage of the discussion, the focus at this point being how to drive transparency and accountability throughout businesses. Given her position at the top of one of Scandinavia’s largest banks, Julia Persson, Head of Cash Management, GTS, Large Corporates and Institutions at Swedbank provided some enlightening examples from the region, which is arguably leading the way regarding gender diversity.
Julia noted that generous parental leave, first-class state-led child care, and equal opportunities are all promoted across the region. She further highlighted how countries such as Sweden actively legislate on diversity issues. Such measures include tax reductions for couples that equally split their parental leave. Given that Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are the top five countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, the statistics would seem to demonstrate the success of this approach.
For businesses, this has practical implications. Julia explained how these measures help drive parity with respect to the ‘risk’ of employees taking parental leave when hiring men or women, as both are equally involved in childcare. “Also, gender pay gaps are reviewed and reported on annually reducing the risk of males being paid more than females,” she said.
Julia was keen to point out, however, that whilst the Nordic approach is successful, issues still exist. Quoting a Wall Street Journal article from 2014, Julia noted that: “Only 3% of the largest 145 big Nordic companies have a female CEO and more than every second woman thinks that an unfair sharing of housework is hindering her ability to run her own business.” In her view, the reason for this is because, despite all the good work, gender bias still exists and is very hard to remove completely. She provided a riddle to highlight this and it seemed to be an eye-opener to many in the room.
A father and son are in an accident and the father is killed. The son is rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery. However, just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon upon seeing the patient says, “I can’t operate – that boy is my son!” How is that possible?
A bright future
Rounding off the debate was Lucie Harwood, Head of Treasury and Investor Relations at Laird plc who provided insight into what the future might hold for gender parity. Lucie noted that she typically approaches this topic with some degree of cynicism. “Today has proved me very wrong,” she said. “It has been fantastic.” For Lucie, the key reason for this was because of the tangible signs that the debate is moving beyond the normal conversations around working mothers and flexible working. “Whilst this remains incredibly important it is just a symptom of the broader gender bias that appears in numerous guises,” she said.
In her view, despite the positive steps that have been taken and the progression of the debate, there are still some major obstacles to achieving gender diversity soon. Lucie cites how the ‘old boy network’ remains a big hurdle, “it is just that, old,” she says. “It means though that many of those old attitudes are very entrenched making it harder to fight against,” Lucie mentions, however, that in the treasury and finance world this network is not as apparent as in other areas, such as investor relations.
And there is a positive future. “The people that comprise these networks will retire and it is then I believe all the work that has been done to push diversity over recent years will come to the fore,” she says. “There will be a groundswell of opportunities for people, both male and female to assume senior roles and I believe in doing so those old attitudes will eventually erode away.”
Lucie added: “There are several cultural and demographic factors that will contribute to the step change in how we work and where we work, which will be of benefit to all but will also help to bridge the gender gap, but we will all still need to continue to contribute to the discussion and challenge the status quo to make sure of this.”
Food for thought
After the panel discussion, there was a clear desire from those in the room to take the opportunity to hear more from the experienced women on the panel, demonstrated by the variety of questions asked during the lively question and answer session. The questions ranged from how to carve out personal time in the working week, to asking about what were the most unusual or risky hires that the panel had made.
From these conversations, it was clear that the panel’s anecdotes and advice resonated with those in the room and provided plenty of food for thought. “Events such as this are very important because they provide a good chance to step back and think about the issues that are impacting women in our industry,” says Han Ling, Deputy General Manager at Siemens Financial Service Limited, based in Beijing. “Because of the sheer amount of work that treasury has to do on a daily basis sometimes these issues can be forgotten, so it is important to be reminded and learn from each other.”
This point was echoed by Lesley Rogers, Director, Treasury, Banking & Cash at AT&T Istel who said: “All women, even the most senior, have insecurities and challenges so to be able to network and learn from each other’s experiences is exceptionally important and a unique opportunity. It is also clear from these discussions that there is still a lot more that companies can be doing to support women, especially in areas such as offering flexible working.”
It has been proven that companies that have a good number of female leaders perform better. Companies now are approaching the topic of diversity with conviction, perhaps for selfish reasons, and want more women at the top. This is a healthy development.
Séverine Le Blévennec, Director Treasury Europe, Middle East & Africa, Honeywell
Annemarie Moore, Group Treasurer at Plan International agrees that the Women in Treasury initiative provides an important platform to make other women aware that they should be pushing themselves further in the treasury field. “There is a lot more prominence of women, especially in finance,” she says.
A reason for this is offered by Séverine Le Blévennec, Director Treasury Europe, Middle East & Africa at Honeywell. “It has been proven that companies that have a good number of female leaders perform better,” she says. “Companies now are approaching the topic of diversity with conviction, perhaps for selfish reasons, and want more women at the top. This is a healthy development.”
Whatever the reasons, it is clear, from the number of senior women in attendance at our forums alone, that the treasury profession is in an improving state with respect to gender diversity. But it is vital that the industry doesn’t rest on its laurels, as there is much more that can, and should be done to highlight the success and empower women in our industry to achieve all that they want.
This point was nicely summed up by Karen Toh, Treasurer at Grosvenor Group. “The path towards greater diversity is a journey. It is great to have forums like this to increase awareness and to discuss how to engage with and get the buy-in of the majority in order to move the debate forward.”
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