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Financial Qualifications - And Just 'Be Better' Ladies

Posted on December 10, 2012 at 7:25 PM

If you are after a non-executive director (NED) position, are female, and have had your ear to the ground and been listening in the UK, by now you would have ensured that you have a financial qualification to your name.

But I tend to forget that - unlike the best journalists - people don't always do their homework well before they feel they can tell it 'like it is' so there is an awful lot of HUFF and PUFF around from 'consultants' in the NED space.

A report just out by the Cranfield School of Management is therefore very welcome. Commissioned by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council), it shows that a financial qualification or a background which demonstrates substantial financial acumen are seen as catalysts for women getting onto the boards of FTSE companies.

Women in finance; a springboard to corporate board positions? reveals: 


- Proportionally, women appear more successful in attaining executive roles where they have a financial background: 45% of female executive directors are financially qualified and 65% in total have a financial background, while 26% of their male colleagues are financially qualified and 44% have a financial background. (my emphasis - please note the old adage of being better qualified for women getting the same positions as male conterparts)


- More than half of new female Non-Executive Director (NED) appointments have a functional background in finance.


- The finance function is seen by the three groups interviewed for the research - executive search consultants, chairmen and women who have made it to the board - to be more facilitative for women’s progress to the top of corporate organisations.

And well - as for the the last one. I wouldn't  have put them in that order myself, headhunters before chairmen - but what they think is still (wrongly) very important. 

According to the report, finance is the language of the boardroom and having the ability to communicate financial information establishes and builds credibility;  and " appears to validate women’s suitability for consideration for a board appointment – a view especially expressed by search consultants who took part in this research."


Dr Ruth Sealy, Deputy Director of the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders and co-author of the report says: “A certain level of financial acumen is necessary for all board directors. But for women, having a finance qualification or functional background helps to break down some persistent stereotypes about women’s competence, giving them credibility, legitimacy and a common language that allows them to join the conversation of the boards.”

I don't know about you, but I find this comment a bit depressing. It gets worse. Cranfied says :


"The research also reveals that women appear to have been more successful in reaching the most senior jobs through the function of finance and this may have implications for other functions when looking to encourage the progression of female talent. But the research also reveals that women nevertheless need to build their networks, use their social connections and use their financial acumen to progress their careers."(my emphasis)

I'm not feeling especially militant, but to me this really does sound like - 'you're female so we need to know you have financial quaifications because we can't judge your ability in any other way, you're too mercurial - oh wait, ok, you have those qualififcations.....still not good enough. Who do you know and how do we know you spend enough time knowing them in the golf club rather than worrying about getting the children's gym kit clean ? What do you mean you don't play golf ?"

But to return to Cranfield - Helen Brand concludes: “While there was a clear message from executive search consultants and the chairmen that finance was a facilitator for a path into the boardroom, it is also clear that financial skills alone are not enough – women need to stretch their social connections, and make themselves known to those where they want to work.


The adage ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ still stands in the workplace, but for women - to get to the top they need to be motivated, driven, determined and known.”

Sigh, in other words, they need to be about ten times better than the men who are already there. Plus ca change, but now - heading for two years after Lord Davies of Abersoch launched his review on the lack of women on boards of UK plc at least we are starting to speak truth.

Here's to 2013 - maybe we can make it a contagious condition, Speaking Truth.  It is the only way to counter entrenched blinkered thinking and discrimination.

And to reflect the world in which UK plc wants to claim a share  - it's an uber competitive one.



Categories: Women, Headhunters, Appointments