With International Women’s Day coming up this Sunday, 8th March, CTMfile recently sat down with Serina Hourican, head of Commercial Sales for GTS EMEA at Bank of America, and Laura Franco Sarto, head of Corporate Sales for Western Europe, GTS EMEA at Bank of America, for a conversation about how opportunities for women in treasury and finance have evolved in recent years.
The corporate treasury space has a reputation for being a traditionally male-dominated area. Anecdotally, recent treasury conferences seem to show this is starting to turn around in terms of the ratio of female attendees. Part of this development appears to be down to a change in the culture of education for younger women at school and university.
“A lot more younger women are looking at finance at university,” says Hourican. “Socially, it’s more acceptable for women compared to 20 years ago and so far in my 15 year career, I’ve seen a lot more women come up through the ranks and take more senior treasury and finance positions. It’s an ongoing journey.”
The changing role of the treasurer has also helped with the prestige of the job, which in turn is increasing the calibre of women and men that are moving into treasury positions. CFOs looking to fund an acquisition will now be much more likely to work with treasury to find working capital benefits and free up cash flow to help support the transaction, for example.
“The role of the treasurer has grown in importance compared to 10 years ago, which makes it more attractive to both women and men. While many may have entered the industry as a cash manager, they can now see a longer career trajectory,” says Hourican. “And if you’re looking at the CFO route, you can couple that in with either an accounting or ACT qualification. Treasury and CFO roles are now much broader which means they will attract more people to those positions.”
Advantages of diversity
Encouraging diversity within the corporate treasury environment has a number of key advantages. One of these is the way it can boost the talent pool within an organisation.
“A company that values diversity will attract a wider range of candidates and will also be viewed as more progressive,” says Franco Sarto. ” A diverse talent pool encourages innovation and also improves employee performance. Employees are more likely to feel happy in an environment where inclusivity is a priority.”
“The benefits and importance of diversity comes with creating new ideas and opinions,” agrees Hourican. “With a diverse group, you won’t automatically end up with ‘group think’. It helps create a collaborative work environment and encourages healthy debate. Having a more diverse treasury function also increases retention, engagement and productivity from employees.”
Importance of a strong network
‘Women in Treasury’-style events are becoming more popular, providing women with the opportunity to network, especially with people outside of their organisation who are in the same field.
“It’s very important for women in finance to network,” says Franco Sarto. “We are seeing more women from corporates talking to each other and organising different events, and sharing best practices as well.”
“It also gives women the opportunity to be mentored, such as when they’re starting a family,” adds Hourican. “They can facilitate conversations about how one person may have tackled a similar situation and still managed to develop their career. Finding people who have gone through the experiences you are facing is important. Plus you get to hear a different perspective.”
While Women in Treasury events and networks continue to grow, it is quite rare to see them as part of the official programme at the major treasury and finance events that make up ‘conference season’ each Autumn. Last year, however, Sibos did have a Women of the World networking event, and also saw the launch of the STAR (Sibos Talent Accelerator Route) scholarship. This programme was created to support the diversification of the financial industry and encourage the next generation of female leaders.
“The STAR programme was great. One of our team members participated and they really appreciated the opportunity,” says Hourican. “But there is still room to do more on the women’s side at the main finance events, particularly for networking and making connections.”
Continuing to push ahead
Clear support and encouragement for diversity in treasury and finance has made a certain level of progress to get to the current situation, but there is still far more that can and should be done.
“Working with the schools and universities, to encourage more young women to pursue careers in financial services, is really important,” says Franco Sarto. “Also, there still needs to be more focus on the importance of women in our workforce. For example, at Bank of America, we have committed to the Women in Finance Charter in the UK. We actively attract women from schools and universities from across EMEA to join our Spring Insight Week, internship programmes and graduate roles; and these provide a pipeline of female entry-level talent.” Franco Sarto continued, “We have also targeted career support for female employees and created initiatives to increase retention, engagement and accelerate the progression of women within our workforce, such as the Women’s Executive Development Programme.”
An open approach to returning talent is also vital, to avoid losing women from the workforce simply because they want to start a family.
“A lot has happened, but we need to continue,” notes Hourican. “We need to think about more around flexible working and work life balance. One of my mantras with my team is ‘trust the team’ - I trust that if you are working from home, you’re getting your job done. At the end of the day, women just want to have the same opportunities, and fair access to those opportunities, as men.”
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