Recently the U of MN’s Carlson School Funds Enterprise hosted a Conversation of Gender Balance in Finance. The two hour presentation hosted two speakers followed by a panel discussion with questions from the audience. The afternoon was inspired after a similar event focusing on Women in Entrepreneurship resulted in a significant increase in women contestants at the recently conducted Minnesota Cup. It is hoped that as a community we can encourage more women to consider careers in finance if we can shed some light on the topic through exploration and discussions such as this.
The Keynote speaker was Sharon McCollam, the Chief Administrative and Chief Financial Officer of Best Buy Co., Inc. Ms. McCollam sees the topic of women in leadership in finance as not only important for the growth of women in their careers, but also because such diversity is important to a company’s ultimate success, as it is valuable for different points of view in all aspects of a company’s activities.
Critically important is how women show up in the workplace. After starting out in the transportation and aviation industries, Ms. McCollam moved onto roles in consumer products, then food organizations. She spent five years outside of the U.S. running a mergers and acquisitions team, and recalled the day she was sent to Asia to negotiate a purchase transaction. Greeting the Asian businessmen at their first meeting she was asked “Why in the world did they send a woman?” Why? “Because we’re here to discuss the purchase price for your business” she responded. Then she simply moved on to the salient conversation. Women must present themselves with confidence, competence and calm.
At every level we must have a career plan. The career plan will change but we must be committed to the goal. Also, find mentors to evaluate those plans, and BE a mentor. Seek people at higher levels, not only for mentorship but also sponsorship! Do not confine yourself to other women – do not create your own glass ceiling! Think of how the next move will look on your resume.
Run into the fire – as this is where the big career moves are possible. This requires recognizing the risks. We need to lead change with courage and determination. We must be decisive and accountable. Women tend to have more difficulty with during times they aren’t popular. We must be resilient. Also leaders must have good judgment even when all the facts aren’t available. Use past experience and make the call! Men do this more easily. Wrong calls are always a part of the process but one must be courageous.
Have managerial courage, understand your personal code of ethics and be able to demonstrate good judgment. Your integrity will be challenged, and if the line gets too close that integrity will be irrecoverable. Hire great people – do not underhire, and do not be afraid to delegate. This is what allows a manager to go to the next level.
Lastly, love what you do! This is really important. Who do you work for? If your boss isn’t willing or able to help you grow, start planning the next move and adjust the career plan to change the outcome.
Next, Liz Mulligan-Ferry of Catalyst Research shared some facts to support the need for diversity and the progress that needs to be made in this area. Liz first highlighted the reasons diversity is important in the workplace: since women are responsible for 70% of purchase decisions, it makes sense for companies to reflect the marketplace; companies with women in leadership are seen as more ethical and philanthropic; diversity facilitates the ability to leverage top talent; and companies exhibiting diversity in the workplace experience increased innovation and improved financial returns. Barriers to advancement for women are encompassed in gender-based stereotypes, unconscious biases and a reliance on mentors to the exclusion of sponsors for moving ahead. Women are seen as less effective in conflict (either too timid or too abrasive, never just right). They’re viewed as competent or likable, but rarely both. And while mentors provide advice and help to navigate corporate politics, one really needs sponsors, with power and clout, to help a person fight and advance to the next level. Sponsors tend to be senior level executives where such relationships are important for facilitating the right developmental opportunities. Critical job experience includes international assignments, P&L responsibility and budget increases of 20% or more.
Strategies for Success:
- Learn the unwritten rules of your company (e.g., culture).
- Make your accomplishments known. Be visible and let people know what you can do.
- Build relationships. Get to know people and let them know you!
- Take career risks. (Interestingly, men will apply for a job when they meet about 60% of the qualifications whereas women typically wait until they meet 100%!)
- Ask for what you want. Be open if you don’t know what it is, but be ready to ask if you do.
- Get feedback for improvement (better gained from a mentor than a sponsor…)
- Be a catalyst!
The final segment of the afternoon entailed a panel discussion with Ms. McCollam, Matt Grimes (Wells Capital Management), Laura Moret (Chief Counsel of Piper Jaffray Asset Management), Kathy Rogers (EVP, Business Line Reporting and Planning, US Bancorp) Tammy Schuette (Corporate Controller at TCF Financial) and Mark Simenstad (VP of Fixed Income Funds at Thrivent Financial). While the panelists acknowledged that great progress has been made in this arena, Mr. Grimes and Simenstad indicated that women only account for 10 or 15% of the applicant pool in jobs where they have hired over the past several years. Additionally, women comprise only 15% of the membership of the CFA Society of Minnesota. Speculation as to the reasons for this low representation centered on women’s own misperceptions, around the hours required for the job among other issues. While questions from the audience – ranging from how to take risks to the importance of proactive negotiating, drew multiple opinions from the panel, all agreed that it is increasingly imperative for companies to find ways to be more inclusive in growing their employee bases. Demographics in the U.S. are really changing, and we need a workforce that resembles the customer base. It is a matter of community support, and it’s important for corporations to sponsor a mindset of openness and awareness as to what efforts toward diversity means. Inclusion means that people can be authentic; they can bring their whole selves to work, participate and feel good about themselves in the process.