In the latest instalment of the Women in Treasury initiative, Treasury Today and State Street Global Advisors were welcomed to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, for a dynamic afternoon of insight and discussion.
Microsoft CFO Amy Hood opened the event, welcoming attendees to the campus, and commenting that treasury is a “hotbed of talent” and advising that more companies should regard their treasury functions as a great training ground for strong finance leaders.
Christine Stokes, Managing Director and Director of Client Services at State Street Global Advisors, explained that the firm has been partnering with Treasury Today since 2017 to host events around the globe and further the evolution of the diversity dialogue within the industry. She also described the work State Street Global Advisors has done in “using the voice of our proxy vote to help drive change”, adding that 577 companies as of July 2019 have now committed to adding a woman to their boards as a result of this action.
Next came an insightful panel discussion, with five highly qualified speakers sharing a wealth of experience. Teresa Whitmarsh, Executive Director at Washington State Investment Board, set the tone of the conversation with her assertion that “if you’re a woman in a position of influence and power, you have an absolute obligation to use that to help other women.” She described her experience of being invited to the World Economic Forum at Davos, where she often found herself to be the “only woman in the room”. She explained that this had led to productive conversations with private equity partners and subsequent initiatives to overcome industry challenges.
Anita Mehra, VP Worldwide Payment Solutions at Microsoft, spoke of the importance of being an ‘ally’. She referenced to the allyship model of Dr. Kenji Yoshino, in this regard. The idea is to progress from ally to one to an ally to all. This requires one to suspend ‘judgement’ and use any such situation, as an opportunity to help others learn. She also said that it is important for us as women, to be conscious of and support men and women who may be experiencing discrimination.”
Jennifer Ceran related the path she had taken to reach her current role as CFO of Smartsheet, noting that her original goal had been to serve as treasurer for a Fortune 500 company – a role that she held at eBay for eight years. She recommended that those who have set their sights on a CFO role should aim to achieve a breadth of experience in two or three areas of finance. She also emphasised the importance of persevering and overcoming any setbacks that may occur.
Turning to the topic of corporate cultures, Laura Smith, Vice President, Treasurer, Pension, Credit & Risk at Weyerhaeuser, spoke about the different cultures she had experienced in her current and previous roles. Asked for her advice about career advancement, Laura warned against the temptation to create a persona for a potential employer, advising that people “find the employer that leverages all the things you’re great at.” And Kevin Zimmerman, VP, Head of US Cash Direct Channel at State Street Global Advisors, provided valuable insights into how men can play a role in improving diversity of thought and representation across the organisation.
The panellists also gave their perspectives on how to pursue career opportunities, from the importance of being able to advocate for yourself to the value of leveraging a strong network of sponsors, as the panel defined as people in a position of power who may be able to help drive opportunities. Laura also spoke of the knowledge that can be gleaned from informational interviews, noting that this approach had enabled her to gain clarity over which path she wanted to pursue.
Following the panel discussion, Sophie Jackson, Joint Publisher & Head of Strategic Content, Treasury Today Group, gave a preview of the recently published findings of the 2019 Treasury Today Women in Treasury Study. Attendees discussed a range of topics, from the value of mentoring relationships – and how to secure such relationships – to flexible working, parental leave and the pros and cons of quotas for board representation.
In closing, Christine thanked the panellists for their insights and encouraged participants to share what they had learned from the discussions. Notable takeaways included a greater understanding of the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship, the importance of leading by example in taking advantage of flexible working arrangements, and the value of fostering an ongoing dialogue in the workplace.
A very special thank you to Amy Hood, George Zinn, Anita Mehra, Meri Colistro and the entire Microsoft team for co-hosting and bringing Women in Treasury to Microsoft.
Sculpture by Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors