Women in Treasury

The female perspective

Published: May 2013

As part of our groundbreaking new Women in Treasury initiative, we are launching a major study of women working within the treasury profession. The objective of this annual study is to build up a picture of the profiles and careers of women at different levels across the treasury profession from junior positions to Group Treasurer/Financial Director/CFO positions. We believe that the findings may surprise us all.

Despite improvements, treasury and finance remain predominantly a man’s world. Nowhere is this more apparent than at industry events, where women certainly do not make up half of the delegates and, more tellingly, where astonishingly few make it onto the speaker platforms. This gender bias is perpetuated as a result of individuals recruiting staff in their own image.

In order to change the status quo, it is important to understand the challenges that women may face when working in treasury. The first step in changing anything is to recognise openly and clearly that a problem exists. Once we have done this we need to assess how deep the problem is and what the potential causes of it may be. For this reason, Treasury Today is inviting female treasurers to participate in an annual study to help chart the profession’s path to diversity.

A targeted study will help corporates examine how they build and maintain a best-in-class treasury function, believes Carole Berndt, Head of GTS for Europe and EMEA at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “It also provides an opportunity to use the results as a tool to engage and to promote change. Insight gleaned from surveys can feed into employee development programmes and be applied to create best practice processes at a company.”

In addition to gauging female treasurers’ reaction to the hotly debated quota question, the survey will address a number of areas that are potential hurdles to successful careers for professional women across most industries, including:

  • Work-life balance.
  • Pay parity.
  • Mentoring/networking.
  • Career progression.

Work-life balance

There is no doubt that the prevalent long hours and ‘always on’ culture in treasury make it harder for women who are juggling childcare with careers. The societal norm dictates that a woman has greater responsibility for the household and children and it is hard to believe that there can be any mothers for whom this has never been an issue, although some may claim so. In fact, part of the whole problem around the work-life balance question for women may relate to their inability to openly declare that there is a problem, preferring to struggle on than to admit that things can be a challenge.

The Managing Director and new Head of Transaction Services EMEA at J.P. Morgan, Sue Dean, links this issue to a well-worn myth of ‘having it all’. “I think we beat ourselves up unnecessarily, thanks in part to the old school ‘having it all’ myth, which suggests that a truly successful woman has a fantastic career, great relationships, perfect children, a sharp wardrobe and a tidy, stylish house. No one has it all, for it is all a balance – and you drive your own balance by the choices you make.”

It is a growing trend that more and more companies are beginning to adopt flexible working hours. Berndt makes the point that cash management has become an increasingly global arena with companies expanding across borders and time zones. “Today, I would argue that you can be as effective in your role working remotely at 9pm as you are working from the office at 9am.”

This, as we are all aware, has changed the way in which we work and granted a freedom and life flexibility that no previous working generation has enjoyed.

Pay parity

“The playing field is not yet equal for women, and women are evaluated differently than men. The fact is women have to negotiate things for themselves that their male colleagues take for granted,” according to a University of Exeter (UE) report entitled ‘Gender diversity in the financial services sector’ (January 2013). The report cited a 2003 study of business students which found that 85% of men felt that it was up to them to make sure their company paid them what they were worth, whereas 83% of women assumed their worth would be determined by what their company paid them.

A Swiss-based female Treasurer raises an interrelated issue called the ‘Tiara Syndrome’, a term coined by Carol Frohlinger to explain the belief that by keeping your head down and delivering excellent work, people will notice – and eventually place a tiara on your head. She argues that women need to make a conscious effort to raise their profiles internally and externally, such as vocally participating in conferences, team meetings and networking events.


Many women in the financial services sector cite a lack of role models and mentors in the industry as one of the barriers to their own career progression, according to the UE report. It is a fact that is becoming increasingly noted, that whilst men are great at supporting one another professionally, at all levels of their career, women have been quite woefully poor at this key networking and mentoring. This has resulted in a female workforce that, although incredibly capable, are bad at self-promoting and are something of an invisible power in companies. Key mentors throughout a career are vitally important and this mentor need not be of the same gender to oneself. Dean agrees that senior level sponsorship is key to success. “We all need people who understand our potential and will advocate for us. They can be male or female – it doesn’t matter. Building your network and developing advocates in this way is critical.”

Career progression

According to the UE report, a recent phenomenon is the opt-out revolution: women choosing to leave the workplace, often in their thirties or forties, when they are just beginning to achieve success. There are frequent comments that women simply are not driven by the same goals and motivations as men, but that is a simplistic answer to complex issues.

It is true that some companies think twice about hiring or promoting younger women because of the possibility that they will take a ‘career break’ to have a family. Companies are obviously unable to be frank about such choices and it is near impossible to prove, particularly for smaller companies, yet this has got to be something that comes into play because of the financial implications that it poses. How do we get around what appears to be quite a sticking point?

Differing experiences

Not all professional women face the same obstacles or have similar experiences. The most noticeable differences can be seen between regions. In addition, it will be interesting to see if there is a marked distinction in responses from women under the age of 40 (versus those over 40), which is indicative of the developing career potential of treasury. Ten years ago there wasn’t a career path into the profession. Instead many entered into it by chance, maybe as an accountant or controller. However, today there is specific treasury training and many are making a conscious choice, it will be interesting to see if the results reflect this hypothesis.

The results of the Treasury Today Women in Treasury Study will be published in an editorial feature in the October edition of Treasury Today. The results will be presented during a webinar and will be available on the Women in Treasury section of the website. To participate in the study, please visit:


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