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Growing Women Leaders in Treasury and Finance

January 12, 2023

Steps organizations and individuals can take to build confidence and reduce obstacles to treasury leadership.

Confidently climbing the corporate ladder continues to be a struggle for many women in treasury and finance. Several factors—including the male dominance within finance, wage gaps, and persistent gender bias—hinder women’s confidence in their own skills and abilities. Fortunately, there are many actions that individuals and organizations can take to help women excel in the world of treasury and finance.

Three key factors tend to undermine the confidence of women working in these functions.

  1. Women are outnumbered. Finance and accounting are still largely male-dominated fields. Although more and more women hold entry-level and midlevel finance positions, upper management consists almost exclusively of men, particularly at the C-suite level.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although women make up 47 percent of the total workforce, only 40.9 percent of managers are women and 29.1 percent of chief executives identify as female. The statistics are even more skewed in large corporations. Within the S&P 500 companies, males comprise 70 percent of board members and an overwhelming 94 percent of CEOs.

    The lack of female role models at the top of the finance organization makes it more difficult for women to climb the ladder. Female executives often report feeling alone, unsupported, and outside of their comfort zones.

    Early in my career on a treasury team in the auto industry, I was challenged in meetings as the lone woman on the team. I often found it difficult to articulate opinions confidently. I often felt outnumbered and unable to hold my space at the table without interruption. My ideas were often opposed and/or quickly dismissed. But whenever a man offered an idea, it was thoroughly discussed and acknowledged.

    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 into management roles in finance continue to experience a gender wage gap.

    The BLS’s 2021 Labor Force Statistics indicate that women make an average of $500 less per week than their male counterparts—that is equivalent to a car payment each week. And the wage disparity worsens in upper management and C-suite roles: Male chief executives make an average of $817 more per week than do their female counterparts. The male/female pay disparity devalues women’s contributions and chips away at their confidence levels by telling them they are worth less than men.

  3. Gender bias creates a different perception of strong men vs. strong women. Psychology research shows that there are two primary kinds of gender bias: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive bias relates to other people’s assessment of what a woman is like, or the labels they associate with her personality and behavior. Prescriptive bias revolves around expectations for how an individual or group of people should act or behave.

    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 a female leader exhibits the same behavior, she may be labeled as aggressive, arrogant, and bossy. This means women in leadership roles who are working earn the respect of colleagues must try to find the right path between appearing decisive versus abrupt, assertive versus bossy, and ambitious versus selfish.

    I experienced gender bias firsthand in my treasury manager role at a small, family-owned company. I was quickly assigned multiple special projects and asked to leverage my corporate experience to help instill process improvements. Eager to 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 within the restrictions of the company’s systems (mainly Excel). I trained my co-workers on the new processes, and they were thrilled with the improvements. But my manager was less than receptive, referring to me as “condescending” and a “show-off.”

    Gender bias can create obstacles for women trying to simultaneously climb the corporate ladder and remain likeable amongst colleagues.

Increasing Women’s Confidence in the Workplace
There is no easy solution to these challenges, yet certain actions can help increase women’s workplace confidence.

For women, the key is to 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.

Recognize your strengths and acknowledge some of your lesser qualities. Then work to fill in the gaps by expanding your knowledge base and growing your network, both inside and outside of your field. Find a strong female role model you can lean on and learn from.

Men can help by evaluating their own behavior and reactions to strong females in the workplace. Are you supporting, acknowledging, and encouraging every team member and colleague 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, as well as its associated connotations.

And organizations should evaluate their current pay structure to ensure that paygrades are level across each role, regardless of gender. To protect against potential bias, companies must develop a system for determining salaries based on years of experience and skills required—and set a position’s salary before beginning the interview process.

Companies can also help by developing strong mentoring programs to support women as they progress in their careers. And they can offer both harassment training and bias training, to build awareness of how words and language impact the workplace. In these ways, organizations can create a culture of inclusivity and success.

Working together from both a personal and organizational perspective, we can grow strong and confident female professionals and help bring gender equality into the workplace.

Growing Women Leaders in Treasury and Finance

Lisa Husken is a value engineer for kyriba.

Lisa is a value engineer for Kyriba. She has over 15+ years of management level treasury experience at various companies ranging from Fortune 500 companies (Faurecia Automotive) to privately owned companies (Irvin Products). Her expertise includes building a Treasury Department from the ground up, global cash management & forecasting, FX risk management strategies, bank relationship management as well as M&A. Lisa has also led the collaborative selection and deployment of an ERP platform.

In her role at Kyriba, Lisa collaborates directly with executives in Treasury and Finance along with the various members of their teams to review and document current state vs. future state vision based on their strategic objectives. This cross-functional collaboration includes benchmarking, performance maturity modeling, current process risk analysis and implications, as well as clear road map for best practices that will deliver a convincing ROI to their organization. Lisa graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, specializing in International Business.

This article originally appeared in Treasury & Risk.