Attracting The Female CFO – It’s A Whole New Playing Field

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The skilled, senior, experienced and innovative female chief financial officer is rightly the most sought-after member of the JSE Top 40’s C-suite. At a time when work-life balance is everything, are you relooking your corporate modus operandi?


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A recent paper on CFO CA (SA)s at JSE Top 40 companies brings to light interesting statistics when making an international comparison about the role.

Firstly, only 7.5 percent of JSE Top 40 CFOs are women, versus the 11 percent of ASX 100 companies and FTSE 100 companies, and the 13 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Our CFOs also tend to have a shorter tenure on average (just 4.1 years), versus the tenures of the FTSE 100 (4.5 years), the ASX 100 (5 years), and the Fortune 500 (5.6 years).

Another key piece of data is that South African CFOs tend to be younger than their international counterparts – i.e. 49 years in SA, versus the ASX 100’s 51 years, and FTSE 100/Fortune 500’s 52 years.

Further, the above paper also reports a conspicuous lack of diversity among JSE Top 40 CFOs, with only 9 (22.5 percent) of Top 40 CFOs hailing from a broad-based black ethnicity group; and only 3 (7.5 percent) of 40 current CFOs being female.

Diversity under the spotlight

When a data set like this hits you squarely in the jaw, it’s important to find reasons for the imbalance and to make suggestions that can be applied to rectify the situation. This has become increasingly important in light of the need for companies listed on international exchanges to require a minimum of two non-white or female board members; or having to publicise the reasons why this is not the case.

While the gender split of annual graduates intake at global listed firms is around 52 percent women, 48 percent men – the disparity in genders becomes increasing apparent from age 30 onwards.

Research from Fast Company reveals that the more diverse a company, the higher its levels of innovation – with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leading to increased connection between people and brands; better outcomes and broader customer bases; enhanced creativity and awareness; more unique viewpoints and a diversity of thinking (to accommodate diversity within a market); and an all together more honest sounding board – resulting in best-in-class change where it is vital in a sector.

Further, women who are hired into the CFO role seem to offer many positive spinoffs for the firms at which they are based. These firms are more profitable – generating US$1.87 trillion more than the sector average; and, when companies have, on average, more than 30 percent female executives, they generally outperform those with a lesser percentage.

“No matter how you look at it,” reveals Hanady Khalife, senior director, Middle East, Africa and India, for the Institute of Management Accountants, “women leaders are good for business in general.” And also for building “more sustainable, self-sufficient, and increasingly shockproof” organisations in the future, she adds.

Unpacking the reasons and seeking solutions

PwC’s 2022 Annual Corporate Directors Survey fills in critical gaps. Firstly, South Africa’s skills shortage is a decided contributor to the situation. There is too little talent to service the fintech sector, and skilled female executives find themselves in high demand – thereby spending just one to five years in each respective role, versus the three to eight years spent in a role by their male counterparts.

There is also the problem a lack of succession planning among skilled female executives, which needs addressing as a matter of urgency. Clearly, the numbers all along the line and not just at the top need consideration too – the PwC Survey found that of the 208 new executives appointed between January 2020 and June 2022, only 25 percent (53 in total) were woman.

Lure of the board

If women in key financial management roles are not able to overcome the challenge of balancing their home/work life, by having the right support in place both at home and in the workplace, the trend seems to be – given the choice – that they will opt for a non-executive director role on a board, rather than a high-stress and full-on corporate position.

Khalife adds that even in a highly egalitarian society, women spend more time raising their offspring than men do – leading to longer breaks from full-time employment. Consequently, a board role that is less demanding would generally suit a skilled female executive better than a hands-on job at the coalface of their profession.

So, when you groom your next CFO for a JSE Top 40 role, it pays to ensure that:

  • there is dedicated mentorship available to help the applicant bridge the gap between middle and senior executive level;
  • the boys’ club has been kicked to the curb so that prime networking opportunities include everyone in the C suite;
  • and there is adequate support among the departmental team (consisting of administrative staff and junior executives) to offer your candidate a balanced, and ultimately sustainable
  • and healthy, home/work life.

Otherwise, you could be looking at an even shorter tenure than the average 4.1 years.

By Jeremy Bossenger of BossJansen Executive Search.

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