The issue of women in finance leadership roles has hit an inflection point. On one hand, research from Crist Holder showed the percentage of female CFOs hit an all-time high in 2022 of 16 percent. While that means the number of women CFOs has nearly doubled over the last 10 years, it still means that fewer than one in five CFOs are women.
However, women shouldn’t shy away from making their voices heard in the traditionally male-dominated finance field. The benefits of having a female finance leader are well-documented: higher growth, returns and market valuations, as well as increased resilience, innovation and talent retention—just to name a few.
Developing an authentic leadership voice is one of the most important steps women in business can take to progress in their careers. In this piece, we will take a look at three actionable steps women in finance can take to develop a strong, influential presence within their company.
Become a Strategic Partner with the Help of Automation
Traditionally, the CFO has been tasked with managing financial operations and acting as a steward of the company’s finances through budgeting, reporting and risk management. The CFO is still expected to conduct these tasks—but also take on a more strategic role providing insights and guidance to help drive growth and profitability across the business.
Female CFOs who proactively and fully embrace this shift will develop a stronger presence throughout the organization, not just the finance team. However, escaping the back office will require increased automation and efficiency.
CFOs cannot complete all their traditional tasks manually and still have the bandwidth to serve as a strategic partner. Instead, automating time-intensive and error-prone areas—like data entry, accounts payable and receivable, and payroll—can free up valuable time for more value-add tasks.
Collaborate Effectively with the Rest of the Business
As the CFO role becomes more strategic, there will be a need for strong interpersonal skills. Luckily, female finance executives already seem to have a leg up in those areas.
Research has shown that women outscored men on important leadership competencies like trust, teamwork and communication. That could potentially be related to the fact that additional studies show female finance chiefs tend to make more conservative presentations that are “more concise, clearer, direct and contain more numeric data” than their male counterparts.
Going forward, female CFOs need to continue developing those characteristics as they work with department heads to develop and deploy strategy. Finance leads will increasingly be put in a position where they are in charge of disseminating and explaining data to other teams, requiring transparent, relevant and easy-to-understand communication.
CFOs who actively work on their emotional and relational intelligence will more likely become a trusted advisor to other departments, allowing finance to help drive strategic initiatives across the organization.
Be Your Biggest Advocate
There is a clear confidence gap that needs to be addressed. Women are much more likely to doubt themselves and their qualifications than men. Women tend to think they need to have the answer to every question, and fit all the criteria for a role before they even think to offer themselves up for it—men don’t think that way.
The former COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote in her 2013 book, Lean In, about the importance of being curious, confident and raising your hand for daunting opportunities.
“At a certain point, it’s your ability to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters,” said Sandberg. “Women need to shift from thinking, ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking, ‘I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it.’”
Remember, self-assurance and confidence do not have to be innate. Cultivating a calm and confident self-assurance is a vital skill for CFOs, and can be done through practice.
The Bottom Line
For every woman in leadership, there is a palpable impact. Research by Deloitte Insights shows that for each woman added to the C-Suite, three more women were added to senior leadership. In order to continue growing the number of female leaders in the finance field, it is crucial for women to be heard.
To learn more about honing in on and developing your authentic voice as a female finance leader, be sure to join Oracle NetSuite’s upcoming Women Who Mean Business virtual event on June 28th. The free webinar will cover how to:
- Extend your influence beyond the finance team
- Drive focus on strategic growth initiatives
- Improve efficiency with automation
- Prepare for regulatory changes
- Communicate with impact