It is a global phenomenon and the problems are more endemic in the developed world
A career in finance is among the least preferred professional choices for a woman owing to factors like stereotyping and discrimination
An Economic Times news report said that Microsoft announced the appointment of its first-ever woman Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Amy Hood. What strikes an average reader instantly is, “What took one of the largest business corporations of the world with over 35,000 employees more than 35 years to appoint a woman to the post of a CFO?” While hypotheses abound, it is no secret that low participation of women in the discipline of finance is a global phenomenon. While several factors drive this phenomenon, for most women finance is not a top career choice.
According to a 2012 Catalyst Census of Women Executive Officers and Top Earners report, women comprise only 18.6 per cent of executive officers in the finance and insurance industries among Fortune 500 companies. Studies have shown that economies across the globe are facing significant cost of opportunity loss with the skewed balance of women in finance. Some reports even argue that the global economic crisis could even have been avoided if more number of women were present in the finance profession across the globe.
A Forbes article reveals that both men and women have reservations against seeing a female financial advisor. A 2011 BCG survey reveals that in its global sample only 11 per cent of women stated that they preferred to work with a female financial advisor. The author, Sasha Gabrialth, says that owing to certain community stereotyping, women are looked upon as ignorant in the field of finance. Gabrialth, herself a finance enthusiast, says, “I hate being stereotyped because of my gender and I don’t appreciate being talked to like an infant in matters of finance.”
Developed economies spearheading the problem
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), a global body of finance professionals, reveals in a report titled, “Equality: Women in financial services,” that discrimination against women in the financial services industry is very common and widespread. It is a global phenomenon and the problems are more endemic in the developed world. In financial services, Philippines have the maximum number of women in senior management positions (47 per cent), followed by Russia (42 per cent) and Thailand (38 per cent). Japan has the lowest percentage of women in senior positions in financial services (7 per cent).
According to the ACCA report, the latest economic crisis was driven by an industry structure promoted mainly by the “dominantly male trait” of excessive risk-taking. One of the key reasons why women are unable to make it to the top in the finance profession is their intrinsic aversion toward excessive risk-taking. While the argument on whether the economic crisis could have been avoided if the industry had a better balance of men and women is debatable, there is no arguing the fact that men who demonstrate more risk-taking behaviour are preferred and promoted over their equally capable female colleagues.
Amy Hood’s promotion to CFO comes at a time when the issue of gender inequality and its long-term economic repercussions has become a topic of debate and discussion among boardrooms across the world. People Matters published a story in March 2013, titled Power Women, which outlined how successful women channel their professional karma toward unprecedented achievements. Successful power women reveal that it is important for a woman to own her career, plan strategically and remain focused in order to come around at the top.