Growing Women Leaders in Treasury and Finance
Women in treasury and finance continue in their struggle to confidently climb the corporate ladder. Several factors, including the male-dominated finance field, wage gaps and gender bias hinder women’s confidence in their skills and abilities. Fortunately, there are many actions people and organizations can take to help women excel in the corporate world.
Three Key Factors Affecting Women’s Confidence
Overall, there are three key factors that typically impact the confidence of women working in treasury and finance.
1. Women are outnumbered.
Finance and accounting are still largely male-dominated fields. Although entry-level and mid-level finance positions are held by women, upper management—in particular, the C-Suite level—is almost exclusively men. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, although women make up 47% of the total workforce, only 40.9% of management are women and only 29.1% of chief executives identify as female.1 The statistics are even more skewed when you look at larger corporations exclusively. Within the S&P 500 companies, males comprise 70% of board members and an overwhelming 94% of CEOs.
Without female role models at the top of the finance organization, it becomes more difficult to climb the ladder. Female executives often report feeling alone, unsupported and outside of their comfort zones.2
During my early treasury career in the automotive industry, I was challenged in meetings as the lone woman on the team. I often found it difficult to articulate opinions confidently. You feel outnumbered and unable to hold your space at the table without interruption.
With limited female peers in executive positions, women tend to feel alone and outnumbered in upper management roles.
2. The wage gap diminishes female contributions.
Women who successfully break through into financial management roles continue to experience a gender wage gap. Based on the 2021 Labor Force Statistics, women make an average of $500 less per week than their male counterparts—that is equivalent to a car payment each week.3 The wage disparity worsens as you investigate upper management and C-Suite roles, where male chief executives make an average of $817 more weekly than their female counterparts. The male/female pay disparity devalues female contributions and chips away at women’s confidence levels by telling them they are worth less than men.
3. Gender bias has created a different perception of strong men vs. strong women.
Gender bias is another major factor diminishing women’s confidence. Psychology research shows that there are two primary kinds of gender bias: descriptive and prescriptive bias.3 Descriptive bias is the assessment of what people think a person is like or the labels we associate with one’s personality and behavior. Prescriptive bias assesses the belief of how someone or a group of people should act or behave.
When assessing behavior and leadership styles in the workplace, gender bias often translates into a different reception of male versus female leaders. Strong male leaders are often described as assertive, confident and effective delegators. However, if the same behavior is displayed by a female leader, she is often labeled as aggressive, arrogant and bossy. When a woman goes against these anticipated behaviors, she fights to toe the line between decisive versus abrupt, assertive versus bossy, or ambitious versus selfish.
Reflecting again on my own experience, I saw gender bias firsthand in my treasury manager role at a small, family-owned manufacturing company. I was quickly assigned multiple special projects and asked to leverage my corporate experience to help instill process improvements. Eager to finally feel like I was able to make a difference in my role, I diligently detailed suggestions to document processes and automate as much as possible, given the programming restrictions of the company’s systems (mainly Excel). After I had effectively trained others on the new processes, my manager was less than receptive, referring to me as “condescending” and a “show-off.” Yet, my other co-workers were thrilled with the improvements.
Gender bias can create obstacles and lower confidence levels as women try to climb the corporate ladder while struggling to remain “likeable” amongst colleagues.
Increasing Women’s Confidence in the Workplace
There is no easy, one-answer solution to how we can increase women’s workplace confidence, but here are actions everyone can take:
Women: First, be confident in your skills and abilities! Recognize the limitations you place on yourself by undervaluing your contributions to the organizations you are a part of. Stop telling yourself you’re not qualified, not worthy, or not experienced enough. Growth happens when you start doing things you are afraid to do or think you are not qualified for. Know yourself by recognizing your strengths and acknowledging some of your lesser qualities. Then work to fill in the gaps by expanding your knowledge base and growing your network, both in and out of your field. Find a strong female role model you can lean on and learn from.
Men [and women, too]: Evaluate your behavior and reactions to strong females in the workplace. Ensure you are supporting, acknowledging and encouraging all team members and colleagues equally. Work to ensure that all team members are heard during meetings and proactively pull women into the conversation. Be aware and selective of the language and terminology you use and its associated connotation.
Organizations: From a corporate perspective, organizations must evaluate their current pay structure to ensure level paygrades for each role regardless of gender. To help protect organizations from potential bias, companies must systemically calculate a salary based on years of experience and skills required before beginning an interviewing process. Organizations can also develop strong mentoring programs to support females as they continue to progress in their careers. In addition to harassment training, companies can offer bias training to help bring awareness to how words and language significantly impact the workplace. In these ways, organizations can create a culture of inclusivity and success.
Working together from a personal and organizational perspective, we can grow strong and confident female professionals and help to bring gender equality into the workplace.
- Pyramid: Women in the United States workforce. (2022, February 9). Catalyst.
- Women, Find Your Voice, Harvard Business Review June 2014.
- Not Very Likeable: Here is How Bias Is Affecting Women Leaders, Forbes Magazine 2018.
- Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.