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We need more female finance directors

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Kate Andrews, Caspian Publishing’s finance director and a member of this year’s Academy for the Real FD/CBI FDs’ Excellence Awards, made a comment about the scarcity of women FDs in the big companies earlier this week. While praising the skill of the FTSE 100 nominees for this year’s awards, she couldn’t help but mention the fact none of them are women.

Today, while listening to the speakers at the Women of the Future Economic Empowerment Summit, I started thinking again about how few high-ranking female role models there are for young FDs.

The main reason why there is only a small number of business women at the top is most take a career break at some point to have a family and they often find, when they return to the workforce, that corporate life and motherhood are uneasy bedfellows.

Finance is not the most conducive industry to taking time out, and it’s an industry where flexible working can be difficult.

It’s such a shame. For example, as one delegate at the summit pointed out, companies that have diverse boards (ie those containing their fair share of women) financially outperform those with boards that are made up of just men.

Obviously, all women who make it to the top, whether they have children or not, are inspiring because it’s still a man’s world. But today, let’s focus on those who have successfully juggled babies and boardrooms.

Indra Nooyi was one of the keynote speakers at the summit and she’s a pretty amazing lady. Nooyi is the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and was previously chief financial officer of the company before moving to the top job.

She’s also a mum, and a proud mum at that.

What was great about Nooyi’s remarks today was that she didn’t sugar-coat her experiences. Her final remark on combining motherhood with a career was this: “Behind every success story there’s a story of pain, guilt, loss and sorrow.”

(And, she gave the audience her tips for overcoming the guilt of leaving family at home while going to work:

1)    Marry the right guy2)    Co-opt others into your mothering “eco-system”3)    Be nice to your family4)    Stop feeling guilty. )

I would like to think that up-and-coming female finance directors such as Jill Collighan (2ergo; 2008 Excellence Award nominee), Sam Williams (Trimedia; Academy member) and Sarah Wood (Simply Biz; 2008 Excellence Award nominee) will be ruling the corridors of FTSE 100 companies in the years to come, balancing a family with a finance team if that’s what they choose to do.

I would like to think this entire quandary is one that will have been long-solved by the time our daughter’s daughters are coming up through the ranks.

Until then, I guess the only thing to do is salute the ones who have made it and implore more companies (and governments) to do more to encourage women (particularly finance types) to stay in the workforce after they’ve had their children.Read more about the Women of the Future Economic Empowerment Summit at Real Business.

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