Women in Treasury

Blazing a diversity trail – Women In Treasury Introduction

Published: Apr 2013

Whilst the treasury profession remains largely male-dominated, there are remarkable women enjoying remarkable careers. The Women in Treasury series will recognise female innovators in the corporate treasury profession. The initiative aims to bring women together to share their experiences, challenges, successes and failures, as an inspiration for all operating in this field.

The press is rife with articles outlining how the treasurer has a new and important role within an organisation. But it is not the traditional treasurer who can fulfil these demands, argues Carole Berndt, Head of Global Transaction Services EMEA, Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “The new treasurer has to be able to manage this environment where crisis is business as usual. They will need to have an extreme attention to detail and the things they must manage, such as operational, liquidity and market risk, need to be married with the ability to think strategically and creatively.”

The new treasurer will also need to be a good communicator, effectively co-ordinating the different business lines and functions and promoting collaboration and co-operation across the company. Although not risk-averse, the new treasurer must have a level-head and appropriately weight risk versus opportunity. They must also have the ability to listen and understand the business, and create tailor-made solutions to meet those business needs.

Many of these traits are more commonly associated with women than with men, yet it is shocking to see how few women there are in treasury. A female Director of Corporate Treasury, who asked not to be named, recounted her disappointment with the gender composition at industry conferences. Not only are there only a few female treasurers on the conference floor, but there are next to none participating on the panels or leading the workshops.

Yet the role treasury plays in an organisation makes it a very dynamic space for women to work in, according to Eileen Zicchino, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), J.P. Morgan Treasury Services. “The treasury function is at the heart of every organisation – wise decisions made there have dramatic and positive impacts on the health of the entire company, and consequently on all the people of that company.”

The Director of Corporate Treasury believes that women need to be much more visible in their roles, both inside and outside of their organisation. While women are notoriously bad at promoting themselves, the Women in Treasury series in Treasury Today and Treasury Today Asia aims to help bridge this gap by profiling female trendsetters on a bi-monthly basis. Each article will look at professional development and career-defining moments, as well as providing advice to those just starting out in the profession.

“Women in all industries and professions can benefit from obtaining insight into other female professionals – on a personal and professional level,” says Christina Easton, Principal at Treasury Dynamics LLC, based in Clyde Hill, WA. “The opportunity to read profiles of women in similar positions, industries or perhaps in more senior positions than your own, provides the practitioner with ‘a-ha’ moments, ideas, courage and inspiration for change.”

Julia Persson, Deputy Head of Corporate Treasury, A.P. Moller–Maersk Group, is enthusiastic about the initiative because “it is good to know that other women have succeeded in the same field and the series identifies role models to look up to”. She is particularly interested in the problem-solving aspect of the profiles. “Most of the issues are probably not gender-specific, but this series could illustrate a different approach to solutions.”

Gender challenges

It is evident that women still face specific challenges at work. The pay gap is a stubbornly pervasive problem. A recent Chartered Management Institute (CMI) survey showed that the average gender pay gap for executive level positions is more than £10,000 a year, while women receive less than half what men are given in bonus payments. CMI estimates that the average female executive suffers a lifetime earnings gap of £423,390 when compared to a male worker with an identical career path.

Climbing the corporate ladder is a challenge for many women as they become parents or need to care for their ageing parents or other loved ones. Women are still the primary parent responsible for childcare, although social norms are slowly shifting. A tri-regional survey predicting gender composition in 50 years’ time, conducted by HSBC on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (8th March 2011), found that 60% of the respondents globally think that childcare will be split 50/50 between men and women by 2060. The regional variation was illuminating: 70% believed this in Asia, while just over half thought this was possible in the US and the UK.

Many women are successful in managing the demands of a family and a successful career, and others want to learn from their experience. “I find it inspiring to hear from others as to how they balance work/life requirements and still enjoy a stimulating career,” says Easton. Marie-Astrid Dubois, Assistant Treasurer EMEA and Asia, Honeywell, holds Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, in high esteem for exactly this reason.

But many women, whether they are mothers or not, are frequently overlooked for promotion opportunities. According to a 2012 Catalyst report, women get fewer of the high visibility, mission-critical roles and international experiences – the so-called ‘hot jobs’ – that are key to getting ahead at global companies and may be an underlying cause of the persistent gender gap at senior levels.

Diversity: the new status quo

The concept of setting a quota for women in executive positions has been hotly debated for a number of decades. Former banker Mervyn Davies brought it back into the spotlight in March 2011, when he called on FTSE 100 companies to increase the percentage of females at Board level from 12.5% to 25% by 2015. More recently, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding brought a proposal to the European Commission (EC) in October 2012 to impose a 40% quota for women non-executive directors on the Boards of listed companies by 2020, but this was opposed by several countries.

The attempt to legislate change is a response to the fact that the number of women in senior positions remains persistently low. The Cranfield School of Management’s 2012 Female FTSE Report shows that the overall percentage of FTSE-100 directors who are female is 15% – and this is an increase of 2.5% on the past three years.

Interestingly, the debate has shifted from an issue of equality to a question of better performance. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Berndt argues that companies perform better when they include the best people from a range of perspectives and backgrounds. “A greater propensity to find new solutions is the key advantage of diversity,” she explains. “Having a range of people, whether gender, cultural or nationality, generates fresh ideas, different perspectives and promotes much more innovation and creativity than a uniform group.”

A number of studies support Berndt’s argument and have found a correlation between high-performing companies and those with strong female representation at the top. According to McKinsey, the findings were startlingly consistent: for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, ROEs were 53% higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile.

Research by the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that shares of companies with a market capitalisation of more than $10 billion and with women Board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male Boards by 26% worldwide over a period of six years. The report identified six key reasons why greater gender diversity could be correlated with stronger corporate performance, including a better mix of leadership skills, access to a wider talent pool and improved corporate governance.

Talent pipeline

The debate is not just about getting more women onto the Board but making it possible for women to reach their full potential within an organisation, instead of reaching a glass ceiling or being pushed off a glass cliff. As Ann Francke, CMI CEO, said: “Women make up almost three out of four at the bottom of the ladder but only one out of four at the top. This lack of a strong talent pipeline has to change, and fast.”

McKinsey reports that of the 235 European companies it surveyed, more than 60% said that they have at least 20 gender diversity initiatives in place. It singled out adidas as a success story, a company that ranked in its top quartile in diversity and performance. Senior leaders have designated diversity as a strategic goal and started building it into the ‘guts of the organisation’, setting a goal of 35% of all managers by 2015. The effort is supported by numerous policies, including gender-balanced recruiting, childcare assistance, and flexi- and part-time work opportunities.

The Cranfield School of Management’s report also highlighted a few outstanding corporate initiatives. Diageo, which has the highest percentage of women on its Board (44.4%), including the CFO, encourages “flexibility of career paths, with the ability to step on and off the fast track, and multiple opportunities to connect with diverse role models”. It also has an internal networking and affinity group, Spirited Women, which connects women across the globe.

In 2011 Rolls-Royce implemented a ‘reverse mentoring’ programme, whereby senior executives were mentored by a junior colleague. The aim is to give senior executives a different perspective, sharing diverse experiences and ideas whilst increasing the visibility of diverse talent. Twelve of the 17 reverse mentors are female. Software firm Sage undertook an annual gender diversity review in June 2011; today it proactively encourages coaching and mentoring of female executives to aspire to top leadership roles and insists on a diverse slate of candidates from head hunters for all senior executive appointments.

Many trade and professional associations are also walking the walk. For example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has launched Narrowing the Gap, an initiative aimed at retaining women in accountancy, and boasts a 66% female workforce, double that of the industry average.

Role models

A growing number of women, both in senior roles and among the rank and file, are finding their voices and inspiring others to achieve progress, reports McKinsey in ‘The Global Gender Agenda’. It is this advice and willingness to share that will make all the difference to a new generation of treasurers.

When asked what advice she would give to other women in treasury, Easton focused on mentoring. “The mentor can be in your industry, within treasury or outside of treasury, a man or woman. Clearly identify what you want to achieve with this relationship, create a profile of the best mentor for you, find the right person, and identify reasonable goals for meetings, including frequency,” she says.

Persson believes that effectively managing your manager, promoting your achievements and building a strong network, both within the organisation and externally, are key elements. “Having good relationships with colleagues is essential and helps when one needs help,” she says. She adds that although these points are not gender-specific, “my impression is that men are generally better at them, when for me it took time and many mistakes to conclude that”.

Berndt also says her advice works just as well for men. “My strongest advice is to trust your intuition, be authentic and true to yourself, and have confidence in your abilities. Quite often we know what needs to be done but we allow ourselves to be talked out of it because it is different to the way things have been done before. Be an advocate for change.”

To read all our interviews, visit our Women in Treasury Profiles section.

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