Keeping women in finance: short-term step to a long-term goal

The latest Top 50 survey by Accountancy Age revealed that the
average number of female partners in the Top 50 firms is around 12%. And
although this year’s figures show an upward trend, the number of female partners
still lags way behind their male counterparts.

How can we encourage women who have already reached a senior position in
their field to stay and grow in this sector? One of the options that many women
are embracing is interim management ­ an area where they can combine the best of
working at a senior level in finance with a flexible lifestyle.

We define interim managers as ‘experienced, hands-on executives and senior
managers, who have a proven track record and operate at all levels, from the
chairman of the board to the line manager, from programme director to senior
project manager’.

Charles Russam, chairman of the longest established mainstream interim
management provider, Russam GMS, explains. ‘When a company needs a finance
professional immediately, by taking on an interim manager they will most often
get an over-qualified professional. This gives them peace of mind that they are
getting a safe pair of hands’.

Stephen Park, director general of finance at the Department of Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (which regularly employs financial interims), agrees.

‘Interims – with their wider experience and well-practised skills – add real
value from day one. They provide breathing space to allow a more considered
permanent recruitment process or help get wayward projects back on track – in
both cases taking the pressure off more senior colleagues.’

Russam has seen a rise in the number of women turning to interim management,
with over 25% of the total number of women on the company database having been
registered since January 2008.

Urvashi Bhagat has extensive experience within the public sector – working as
an interim financial professional for the last five years. ‘I wanted to get to
a senior position in the public sector, particularly in central government and
its bodies, and saw interim working as a fast-track to developing the necessary
skills and experience,’ she says.

Diane Gray-Smith, an experienced interim manager, saw interim management as a
way to work on the most exciting aspects of finance ­ away from more traditional
accountancy roles.

‘I relish having tough targets in a short period of time along with a variety
of work,” she says.

‘Interim working is not the most natural path to follow and there are many
To succeed, it is important that you build a fan base around you of contacts who
can point you in the direction of your next assignment.’

While interim management used to be predominantly about filling in
recruitment gaps, interims today are being used far more strategically by

Change management or major restructuring projects are common as well as
handling acquisitions or turnarounds, or developing new projects or businesses.

As Charles Russam says: ‘Many interim managers also have board-level
experience and can contribute an independent view and a fresh set of eyes when
looking critically at all areas of the business.

‘This can be invaluable in a project when an interim manager has been called
in to work on a “distressed” company.’

Gray-Smith believes that her varied interim experiences have allowed her to
rapidly assess business performance. This cross-sector knowledge does not make
her feel constrained by typical business models often used in a particular

Russam GMS, together with CEDAR Talent Management, has set up a resource for
women working as interims, Interim Women ( The forum
invites women who work in all sectors to join.
‘We want more women to embrace the exciting opportunities that exist for
interims in the current business climate,’ says Marta Matajz, chair of Interim

‘One of the key goals of this initiative is to encourage networking and
provide a level of support for interims who come across similar daily challenges
although they work in very different roles,’ she added.
In June last year, Russam GMS conducted a survey of 700 female interim managers
and found that 66% of women became interim managers to enjoy a better work-life

However, it is not for everyone. A jump into interim management could be
viewed as risky without the perceived security of a permanent contract of
employment ­ interims are only paid for each day that they work.

Constant challenge

Celia Adams is an interim turnaround finance director with an extensive track
record in mergers and acquisitions in the private and public sectors, including
change management in blue-chip companies, AIM-listed organisations, SME’s and
Non-Departmental Public Bodies. She first qualified as an accountant and has
since worked across a number of industries as a finance director.

‘Interim working has given me lots of different experiences rather than the
same calendar of events in a permanent role. It allows me to keep up my
skill-set through constant exposure to new technologies and working with
different management styles from one contract to the next.’

The nature of interim management means that professionals are propelled into
an organisation at a higher level, with the sole aim of bringing about a
solution to a specific problem in a short space of time.

‘Your skills and position as in interim mean that you can often facilitate a
result by cutting across any barriers that may be there for people who work for
the organisation full-time,’ Adams added.

Jason Atkinson is deputy chairman of the Interim
Management Association

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