For years, decades even, there has been much conversation, research, analysis, and even frustration about gender equity in the workplace. Although there has been some progress in closing the pay gap and an increase (although slight) of women in the C-suite, there still seems to be a long way to go, particularly with women in finance and accounting.
According to one study, women make up more than half (60.6 percent) of all accountants and auditors in the U.S. and 51 percent of full-time staff at CPA firms. Sadly, only 24 percent of partners or principals are women.1
It’s not for lack of awareness. According to the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, “Female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources.” In some industries, like finance, this is especially clear.2
This tells us that the majority of women in accounting and finance are remaining in entry-level or mid-management positions. In this blog series, we’ll take a look at a couple of the more visible and popular attempts that companies are making to bridge the gender gap, where efforts may be falling short, and how women can get noticed as a finance or accounting leader by adding strategic value.
By all indications most companies today, financial firms included, have the best intentions when it comes to improving gender balance among their senior executives. They typically start with “women-friendly” programs, such as flexible hours, parental leave, and mentorship. But while flextime and alternative work schedule programs are great benefits for retention and recruitment, they are just that—benefits. And while enabling employees to balance their personal and professional lives is important, it is not a substitute for grooming future leaders through leadership development training, sponsorship, and removing professional roadblocks to the advancement of women.3
There’s more. According to Jaenkle and St. Onge in a Harvard Business Review article, even benefits combined with a comprehensive leadership development program “do not fully address the underlying problem of unconscious biases, expectations, and practices of organizational cultures, which have been created by predominantly male executives over decades. Getting middle and senior management to recognize their biases is the most important first step toward reforming a corporate culture that disadvantages women.”4
What initiatives might senior leaders adopt to help guide the advancement of women in finance?
Let’s consider one of the finance and accounting functions as an example: Invoice and payment processing (accounts payable/AP). When someone (man or woman) is in an AP department that still processes invoices manually, their job consists of tedious tasks such as data entry, going around to managers to get approval signatures, tracking down lost invoices, and fielding calls from vendors wanting to know the status of their payment. It’s not only drudgery, it certainly doesn’t allow for any creative thinking or time for more value-added contributions. Women, in this case, have little opportunity for anything that would gain them visibility as a potential leader. Sure, there might be promotion opportunities, but they may face the same situation even as a department manager.
It doesn’t help that historically AP departments have been the quintessential back office function. But businesses today are expecting more from their AP function. The C-suite is realizing that if they can get at the information and data housed in their AP department, they can use it to support better management of their working capital, mitigate potential risk, and make more strategic decisions. Enter an opportunity for women to advance!
“Formulating strategy within the business is a relatively new role for Finance, but one that is welcomed,” says a recent article from Host Analytics. “It requires some new skill sets and increased knowledge of sales, marketing, manufacturing, and other operations, but can also leverage the analytical skills of finance staff applied in new areas.”5
Mark Brousseau, consultant, Institute of Finance Management (IOFM spokesperson), and AP automation thought leader predicts that more and more companies who have not already automated their AP function will realize the true value and do so soon. “It will be unrecognizable!” he says, “digital, data driven, and strategic. Stakeholders will unlock the value of AP automation and leverage it in more ways than ever.”
This is where women in entry level and mid-management finance and accounting roles can step forward and get noticed. Imagine how innovative and forward-thinking you will appear to be if you are the one to provide a solution that will unlock valuable data, save money, make existing staff more efficient, and all resulting in more money going straight to the bottom line.
Imagine if you are the one to turn your AP department from a cost center into a profit center.
And imagine if you are the one to ask the senior leaders in your organization, “Where do we stand with working capital so we can more accurately forecast cash and manage budgets?” instead of “How do we manage this ever-growing pile of invoices?”
Once a few heads turn, dig deeper. Ask more strategic questions like, “How do we better manage our supply chain? And, best of all, “What do we do with the cash that has been freed up?” Not only that, you’ll be well-prepared to answer those questions with, “I’ve got some ideas for new products I’d like to see us develop,” or “By saving this much money from our accounts payable function, I recommend we re-allocate those funds into investment in R&D.”
Keri Gohman, president of a SaaS solution provider for small business, advises, “When you take all of the energy spent on fitting into a narrow box and unleash that on your work — magic happens,” she said.
“When I allowed myself to be the boldest version of myself, I realized I was more willing to take risks, to be more powerful—and my true capacity was unleashed.”2
Yooz comes from a legacy of business process automation and smart document management. We thrive to enable every member of finance and accounting departments to achieve more by automating data entry tasks so that you can focus on providing insights and make smart decisions that improve business operations overall.