The departures of two of the most high profile female finance directors in
the UK has clearly not been viewed as a hammer blow to equality in the
Indeed Margaret Ewing and Alison Reed, former group FDs of BAA and Standard
Life respectively, are well respected among the profession and their time in the
roles have been regarded as triumphant.
Alison Reed led Standard Life through its controversial £4.7bn flotation in
the summer, and is believed to have been hired specifically for the initial
public offering of the former mutual.
Ewing has been hailed for restructuring the airport operator’s finance
function, and was not forced out of the company, but announced her intention to
stand down after the Ferrovial takeover was sealed.
But, with just Rosemary Thorne at Ladbrokes and Lloyds TSB’s Helen Weir as
the only remaining female finance professionals at the top of the tree in the
FTSE 350, there are concerns about where the next top female FDs are coming from
and if having so few on FTSE boards at the moment is discouraging for the next
wave. The next career moves for Reed and Ewing will be watched even more
closely, in their position as role models.
What’s going to happen?
Fortunately, it seems there are potential female FDs around the corner.
Carol Leonard, head of the board practice at Whitehead Mann, says that the
business climate has changed to enable more flexible working, and this has
encouraged more women to juggle their careers and home life, so she expects a
greater number will rise through the ranks. ‘We are also looking at the
potential in the second in commands, the financial controllers of the FTSE, plus
FDs lower down the market. There’s a good smattering of women coming through.’
As for Reed and Ewing, Leonard does not expect them to start winding down
their careers yet. ‘They are both of ages where more senior executive roles
could be taken up, or they could go into a portfolio career.’
Mark Freebairn, head of the CFO practice at Odgers Ray & Berndtson, says
there’s a bright future ahead for females at the top of the accounting
profession, and sees females creating a larger proportion of finance executives
in FTSE companies over the next two to five years.
‘There are a really strong bunch of candidates coming through, with business
being much more equality-driven. But many won’t get to group FD of FTSE 100
companies until their late thirties early forties,’ he says.
And Freebairn agrees with Leonard that Ewing and Reed will head for a big FD
role or portfolio career.
‘They are both more than capable, and have both done great jobs. They can do
whatever they want.’
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