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About women and finance

Last March 8 was “International Women’s Day”, an initiative first launched in the United States in the early 20th century and later replicated around the world. The Soviet Union made it a holiday from 1921 to 1965, and it wasn’t until 1977 that the UN passed a resolution encouraging its members to launch local versions.

But what exactly is the point of having a day to celebrate women? After all, men don’t have such a privilege.

For the same reason there are climate protests.

Some causes are minimized if they are not given a special place in the media landscape or society, because the current system does not prioritize them. Believe us, we dream of a world where it doesn’t take one day (out of 365, or 366 in leap years) to raise awareness about the inequalities faced by the overwhelming majority of women.

But we are here to talk about business, and about a field we are particularly fond of at AquaFin: finance.

Finance and women.

Geraldine Weiss, Gita Gopinath, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Laurence Boone, Marie-Anne Barbat-Layani, Delphine d’Amarzit… many names which are unknown to the general public. Names of pioneers or game-changers of the financial world.

Geraldine Weiss, aka the Great Dame of Dividends, is known for her investment style based on a company’s dividends rather than its profits, while Gita Gopinath is the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the General Director of the World Trade Organization while Laurence Boone is Deputy General Secretary of the OECD.

Finally, Marie-Anne Barbat-Layani is General Secretary of the Ministry of Public Accounts since 2019 and Delphine d’Amarzit is President and CEO of the Paris Stock Exchange since 2021.

So much for the introduction.

Finance: a male-friendly ecosystem

As a corporate professional, think about how many times you have seen a woman heading the finance department. Think about the different industries you’ve worked in, the different countries you’ve traveled to.

How many is that?

In France alone, La Tribune wrote in 2019 that women make up the majority of employees in banking (61%) and insurance (60%). However, according to INSEE, they represent 19% of the heads of companies in the sector. So men, who represent 39% of the workforce in the banking sector, represent 81% of the managers.

If we now look at the statistics for the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) position, 13.2% were women in 2018, in the United States.


Yet, according to Les Echos, funds managed by women have performed better during the pandemic than those managed by men… So isn’t there an opportunity here?

Women in finance: makes business sense.

Gender equality is the fifth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN. The underlying idea is that as women represent more than 50% of the world’s population, they also represent more than 50% of humanity’s potential.

The UN also points out that every dollar invested in girls’ schooling generates five dollars of growth, while every dollar invested in improving income-generating activities for women generates seven!

McKinsey’s “Diversity Wins” study (2019) points to the correlation between achieving parity at the executive levels and significantly increasing a company’s performance. This parity allows for better market penetration, diversifies forms of leadership, increases employee engagement, and improves brand image, which is conducive to attracting talent.

Specifically with respect to women in finance, an IMF study found a link between the proportion of female managers and bank stability: management committees with a higher proportion of women had a higher share of equity, a lower share of bad loans, and greater resilience to stress.

Several factors may explain these differences, such as:

  • the fact that women appear to manage risk better than men,
  • discrimination mainly allows only excellent women candidates to move up the ladder
  • diversity on the board of directors allows for a diversity of views and therefore better decision-making.

Claire Vandromme (CFO at Apsys) and Clelia Lemaire (CFO at Mutuaide Assistance) both emphasize that one of the strengths of women CFOs is their versatility. This allows them to effectively manage deadlines and act as a link between stakeholders.

It is also possible that companies that promote equal access to their executive committees are, on average, better managed.

Of course, versatility and more reasonable risk management are probably more a result of the socialization process of women than an inherent quality. Society as a whole would benefit from training both girls and boys to develop these desirable qualities!

What can be done to promote access to finance for all?

First of all, there is the legislative aspect: the State aims to increase gender diversity in companies, notably through quotas, such as the one introduced last summer for companies with more than 1000 employees. The objective is to impose 30% of women in senior positions by 2027, and then to reach 40% by 2030, as DAF magazine writes. There are also sanctions to warn companies that might be tempted to ignore this target…

Secondly, there are a number of networking and mentoring initiatives, such as Women in Finance or Financi’Elles, which have been promoting the recruitment of women in finance for several years.

Finally, think about the practices in your company, and reflect on the existing barriers for your female colleagues, or for potential female candidates. If you are a man, ask them directly, that way you won’t be wrong!

As you become aware of gender-based inequities in access to leadership positions, you will also realize that your company is missing out on outstanding profiles that could help your organization become more innovative, more agile in the face of change, and better able to lay the groundwork for sustainable growth.

Look around you again, at your colleagues and your management committee: do you see a diversity of perspectives? Do you see enough women?

The answer is probably no, and the good news is that you can take action today.

The final word is addressed to the women who read us: too often, we are invisible in the decision-making process, and we do not dare to speak up. This fear of daring is unfortunately rooted in a limiting belief that we are not legitimate in our roles as leaders, CFOs, and other key positions in the company.

It is precisely this feeling of legitimacy that we aim to reactivate in you at AquaFin, thanks to our finance training for non-financial people, which we can set up in a mixed format… or not!

We use games, real-life cases and reflective exercises to help you gain confidence and fully assume your role in your organization.

Don’t wait any longer, contact us to find out more!

Image source: Daily Maverick, Business Maverick 168, Neesa Moodley


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