Sculpture by Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors
Quotas for female representation on boards are top of mind as State Street Global Advisors and Treasury Today Group’s Women in Treasury initiative brought treasurers together in New York to discuss the findings of the 2018 Women in Treasury Global Study.
As the Fearless Girl statue (sculpture by Kristen Visbal), a symbol of female empowerment, drew the attention of the good and the great, following its move from a position near Wall Street’s Charging Bull to a permanent home outside the New York Stock Exchange, the discussion about the presence of women in executive roles continues.
The unveiling of the Fearless Girl statue in December 2018, preceded the latest Women in Treasury roundtable, hosted by Treasury Today and State Street Global Advisors. The opportunity for guest treasurers and other finance professionals to discuss the relevance of the statue in the context of the findings of the Women in Treasury Global Study provided much material for debate.
“As we head into 2019, our goal is quite simple: to make it the year of taking insight into action,” Yeng Butler, Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Cash Business, State Street Global Advisors, told roundtable guests seated in Siebert Hall – named after Muriel Siebert, the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.
Guest speaker India Gary-Martin, Leadership for Executives, spoke of the elusive ‘executive presence’ in the workplace and the manner in which it is closely tied to “how people perceive you – their perception of who you are as opposed to who you actually are”.
The Fearless Girl statue may embody positivity and strength, but many women still struggle to obtain executive presence in their career, she argues. “It doesn't matter what level of seniority you have, environmental conditions mean that women are often still challenged by that.”
Far to go
Despite a global push for gender equality in recent years, data shows the battle is far from over. Only 5% of female treasurers have a female CEO and 82% lack a diverse board leading their company, Treasury Today’s latest Women in Treasury Global Study reveals.
The annual report, supported by State Street Global Advisors, found that most respondents work in teams where more than 30% are female. However, at the top of their organisations, the view changes fairly dramatically.
Only 5% of respondents have a female CEO and 82% lack a diverse board, the survey found, with over 348 responses worldwide.
Key to success
Mentoring, sponsorship and coaching programmes continue to receive positive response, with over 79% saying these were key to career success. While the line between a mentor and sponsor is thin, treasurers agreed that a sponsor speaks on your behalf in senior management situations, whereas a mentor is someone you can go to for advice. Establishing a mentorship or sponsorship relationship must be done organically, argued one female US-based treasurer. “You can't force people to be your mentor or sponsor. To get a good mentor, you need to put yourself out there,” she explained.
However, not everyone in the room agreed. One treasurer previously worked for a bank where there was a more compulsory mentorship programme. “I was junior, and a managing director was my mentor. I think it was really good to ask managing directors to help young people who are starting their careers,” she said. “I learnt a lot, but my mentor learnt from his interactions with me. Companies can force it and mentors will see the benefits afterwards,” she added.
Renewed support for quotas
A 2018 McKinsey report, ‘Women in the Workplace’, cited by one speaker, reports that hindrances to women reaching the top start long before they take time out to raise a family. “It’s actually at women’s first chance of promotion that men are promoted, and women are not,” commented the speaker.
For the first time since the Women in Treasury Global Study was launched in 2013, support for quotas on boards has overtaken opposition by more than 10%. In fact, 44% felt there should be a quota for women on boards, 32% were opposed and 24% were unsure.
Some treasurers at the roundtable argued that quotas give female leadership a necessary push, whereas others argued that they do not “win people’s hearts and minds”. This new support for quotas may be connected to a feeling that more should be done to support women at work.
With this in mind, Yeng’s call to make 2019 a year of turning “insight into action” perhaps should become an industry-wide mantra.