Women in Finance – it’s so much more than a numbers game

Being a finance professional is one of the few careers that allow you to straddle an entire organisation. We acquire skills throughout our career that should stand us in good stead in any role we play; we can become CFOs, CEOs, or CROs – we can build businesses, stabilise them, turn them around, influence, and be market-makers. The opportunities are endless, but eventually, you will have to make a deliberate choice versus finding yourself in a role by default.

When I finished school, I was going to study pharmacy.  I have an innate curiosity and passion for healing - or rather solving challenges, so I relish the opportunity to understand how things work. My path changed when I qualified for a bursary from KPMG, and I was very fortunate enough to study full-time and find myself in finance instead.

At a point, I segued into the Human Capital space as I found working with people incredibly engaging and rewarding. Being people focused full time for just over two years was a professional and personal growth experience and enriching.  Although I returned to finance,  I was able to take what I had learnt about people and myself, and apply it in a different context and situations that straddled multiple jurisdictions and businesses of varying maturity. That experience had a profound influence on my level of self-awareness and leadership style.

I’m a firm believer in situational and transformational leadership. Leadership is enabling. It’s about the fingerprint you leave when you touch something, help unlock someone or something’s potential and make a positive difference. It’s about acknowledging that we are human first, empowering people and equipping them for success. These are traits that we should nurture in our teams, and that to some extent, women possess naturally:

Being genuinely interested in the group – unlock the art of the possible by engaging the whole person and playing a conductor role with your back to the audience as you guide your team and let them make music;

Helping someone grow and realise their potential - recognising that people are at the centre of everything we do: they serve our clients, deliver our products – they are key to making sure what we do is sustainable through how we do it;

Deriving power through influence rather than position - having good interpersonal skills - being intuitive, listening, getting to know people.  As women, we have an innate ability to gather and collect data, which helps us connect at a very human level when we are authentic. It’s how you get people to work with you and for you, as opposed to working around you;

Encouraging participation – trusting people and equipping them with the information and context they need to deliver insightful work that supports decision-making, drives execution and hits the high notes;

Creating a learning environment – making it safe for people to fail forward by encouraging them to bring a problem to the table so that you can harness the power of diversity to solve collectively and creatively as a team. Women should leverage their natural nurturing ability to create psychologically safe places, which makes the working environment a better place;

No holy cows - empowering your teams to freely express their opinions, ask questions and challenge the status quo – and teaching them how to do that effectively and constructively;

Stopping to recognise success –and that includes the small things.  Anything that makes your life easier – at home, work or play, is an innovation worth celebrating.

My decision to stay in finance was deliberate. I have the opportunity to combine my love of numbers and problem-solving with my passion for helping people realise their full potential. It’s not a job, it’s a calling, and discretionary effort is possible if you are where you are by choice.  It has purpose and meaning, and I show up better as a person because professionally, I am fulfilled.

My advice to those women who are in the early stages of their career:

  • Believe in yourself and your ability to do the work
  • Find your voice and ensure your message lands
  • Find a mentor who can be your sounding board, someone who’ll push you to honour the commitments you’ve made to yourself
  • Actively look for a sponsor who will advocate for you in public and on your behalf when your head is down
  • Don’t wait to be asked - put your hand up
  • Call out societal biases, unconscious or otherwise
  • Tell your story, scars and all, to allow others to learn from your lessons.

Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code, famously said, “We’re raising our girls to be perfect and our boys to be brave, instead of encouraging young women to be comfortable with imperfection.”

Be brave, be ambitious– take the risk. Nine times out of ten, you’ll succeed and, if you do fail, you’ll get a chance to stand up, dust yourself off and try again.

Jo-Ann Pohl is CFO of iOCO, which is part of EOH.