Play to Your Advantage: A Finance Background Will Help You Attain a Board Seat

iStock_000005966600XSmallBy Kayla Turo

We have long discussed the advantages of incorporating more women into board level executive positions, which includes professed benefits such as increased productivity, independence, and creativity, as well as a decline in the debilitating habits of “groupthink” and stereotyping found among ill-diversified boards.

The recent reportWomen in finance: A springboard to corporate board positions?” published by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), states that women with qualifications or a background in finance are more likely to attain executive board positions than those who come from other industries.

The ACCA conducted extensive interviews with three groups: eight female FTSE 100 directors, seven executive search consultants (ESCs), and five FTSE 100 chairmen to gain a better understanding of how finance plays a role in the appointment of new executive directors and what that means for women today.

Finance: The Universal Corporate Language
The report found that all three groups felt it was the credibility that accompanies financial knowledge that was an indispensable perk of having a background in finance. Having the “language” of finance eliminates some of the alienation that occurs for women on a male-dominated board and makes her more identifiable to these men.

The ACCA report indicates, a background in finance is generally viewed as a more masculine qualification, and therefore in the thinking of this report women having experience in finance may work as a “corporate translator” to bridge the gender gap in the boardroom. They purport that the ability to speak the language of finance garners approval from peers on a board

When striving for a board position, it is also helpful to know strategic players who can advocate for you and recommend you for the role. According to the ACCA report, “Networking, in particular being known as well as knowing those who are already in board roles, is essential. If individual women are not known to a chairman or fall under the radar of an executive search firm then it is highly unlikely these women will be considered for board roles.”

While all three groups acknowledge the benefits of having a background in finance in regards to credibility, the ACCA still found some difficulty in pinpointing what type of financial experience is most beneficial.

Following the interviews with these key stakeholders of a corporation the researchers found a “lack of clarity” in the definition of financial qualifications and background. However, certain statistics and comments gathered throughout the interviews demonstrate some of the common fields of finance that have worked for current female directors.

Banking: Three of the eight directors interviewed each had over 15 years of experience in banking. Investment banking in particular was looked upon highly by ESCs and chairmen, especially for female non-executive director (NED) positions. One chairman involved in the study acknowledged that management roles in investment banking allow for more flexibility: an important quality in any role for women to continue to grow in their careers.

Profit & Loss: Having P&L experience is considered vital in the eyes of many ESCs for female clients who may be viewed as a “harder sell.” One ESC acknowledged that having “Chief” in your title may lead to the assumption that the candidate has received considerable training in P&L, which is an essential qualification for anyone aspiring to board level positions.

Accountancy: 20 years ago accountancy firms hired women at a considerable rate, which contributes to the extensive accountancy experience of female directors today

The Problem with Status Quo and It’s Protectors: Why This Research Isn’t Useful For Women

This ACCA is based on opinions of mostly old white guys and women who have had to assimilate to dominant group behaviors to make it so no real shock in the findings that make the criteria very narrow for women to succeed yet leave it wide open for men.

The ACCA report attributes male success to a “linear” or “clear” path from entry level to corporate boards; a path that can become more “circular” or for women if they decide to take career breaks for childbirth and care giving,

“If functional knowledge develops year on year, it is knowledge that one can easily refresh, either before or upon returning, for example, after a maternity break. For other career paths, there may be more reliance on client relationships that are substantially more negatively affected by taking breaks.”

However, we should note that time off for children is only applicable for some women, not all, and research shows that it is stereotyping about the roles that women should have around work and positions at work, not childcare that stops women from advancing.

The report states that women hold only 20 percent of senior finance positions in the UK so following their conjecture based recommendation means that we shouldn’t expect to see more women on boards which will be a problem considering the Lord Davies report is looking for a significant uptick for the number of women on boards.

Yet, by utilizing your experience in finance along with your arsenal of skills, you can raise your potential for director positions, but if you aren’t an accountant, don’t count yourself out as they will have to change once we start examining the many diverse backgrounds of the thousands of men sitting pretty and being paid for it, on boards in the UK.