(As originally published in FEI Canada F.A.R. member e-newsletter, March 2017)

Fast-forwarding female finance leaders

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By: John Candeias, Senior Manager, Advisory Services at EY Canada

Just over two years ago I remember the progressive step Canada took to encourage gender diversity. Securities administrators in seven provinces and two territories signed disclosure practices aimed at improving the representation of women in the workplace. At the time, I was shocked I could still name a handful of companies who didn’t have any female representation in their executive office. As I reflect today, those numbers have increased, but not as quickly as I would’ve thought. Why?

We’ve taken the first step by introducing policies supporting female inclusion. But maybe the question now is: how do we fast forward those women into leadership positions? Well, part three of EY’s DNA of the CFO report helps to answer that question. It lists some of the top things CFOs believe are necessary to increase appointments of female finance executives to the CFO position:

  1. Greater visibility for women leaders who can act as role models for more junior employees. Identify and promote respected female leaders in your organization. Have them engage in open dialogue with junior employees on their career journey, challenges they’ve overcome and knowledge for success.
  2. Active sponsorship of women in finance to help them achieve their career ambitions. That’s sponsorship, not mentorship. Encourage leaders to sponsor women by actively creating opportunities to support them through making connections, creating exposure and advocating their advancement.
  3. Introduction of HR policies that make the finance function more attractive to women. Everyone has different needs. Creating policies around more flexible working arrangements that support women and families can help employees achieve the optimal work-life balance.

With the complexity of today’s business environment, having a team that can effectively meet the evolving demands through innovation and collaboration is a valuable asset. That’s why all eyes are on an organization’s leaders – not just CFOs – to set an example by harnessing the power of diverse thinking. That means enabling people with different experiences, ideas and knowledge to come together in an inclusive culture.

What’s the return? According to a recent report by EY and The Peterson Institute for International Economics, an organization with 30% female leaders could add up to six percentage points to its net margin. But it shouldn’t be any surprise that embracing diversity and inclusiveness leads to a positive impact on performance.

To achieve this, Canadian leaders must take purposeful action to implement these three strategies into their business practices. By championing women leaders, embracing active sponsorship and creating flexible working arrangements, we can fast forward more female finance executives to the CFO position.