Where are all the women?

As Accountancy Age’s editor recently commented, the addition of
Burberry to the FTSE 100 has elevated its FD, Stacey Cartwright, to an exclusive
minority group. There are currently now only four female FDs in the FTSE 100. As
Gavin Hinks noted: “Female FDs at this level are in short supply.”

There are large numbers of women in the finance functions of organisations
but disproportionately few women FDs. The role often requires long hours and
strenuous demands. This recipe does not suit all women, but many of us are up
for the challenge and actually thrive under these conditions. So what can be
done to ensure our bosses appreciate that women make ideal FDs?

Six months ago Deloitte interviewed 15 leading women FDs from Europe and the
US, plus head-hunters and other senior executives to try to learn useful lessons
for any aspiring FD, man or woman. Our research highlighted that a balance is
necessary between personal traits and values, opportunities seized, key
relationships and specific skills. It also demonstrated that women should be
equally, if not more, suited to being an ideal FD.

We identified five essential traits and values: curiosity, courage,
perseverance, confidence and ethical responsibility. Accounting, financial
literacy and “number crunching” skills are necessary, but not sufficient. The
most salient are “soft skills”, such as communication skills; listening and
approachability; negotiation and conflict resolution; influencing skills and
prioritisation. But the most common feature of the leading women FDs were the
critical relationships they had developed and sustained, which helped refine the
skills and traits that made them great FDs.

Gender differences do not prevent women becoming FDs. Values, skills,
opportunities and relationships determine the ability to become an FD. Aspiring
young professionals must take ownership of their career and obtain broad
experience. Today’s FDs need to sponsor their staff and provide them with the
opportunities to gain relevant experience and take on different tasks. And we
need to ensure that women do not miss out on these opportunities as a result of
maternity leave or working reduced hours.

Women make fantastic FDs ­ just as good as men ­ but bosses today need to
provide them with the opportunities to demonstrate it.

Margaret Ewing is vice chairman at Deloitte and former CFO of BAA

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