Marking International Women’s Day, fdu’s Kira Owen discusses the representation of women in Finance and if it’s changed within her career as a recruitment consultant.

When did you start working within the Finance industry?

I started working within financial recruitment in 2003 placing mid-senior accounting interims in to Commerce and Industry.According to Vince Cable, the government’s target of 25% women on boards by 2015 is in sight.

Have you seen any significant change to the proportion of women in senior Finance and board roles?

Undoubtedly there has been an increase over the last 12 years and it is crucial that the Government continue to push female representation at senior levels. Whilst there is still some way to go in terms of cultural shifts and practical changes to encourage the flow of talent to the senior level, ongoing dialogue and representation will expedite this shift.

What is more interesting is as the market improves businesses will compete in their diversity/flexible working offerings in order to attract the top talent. This, in turn, should mean a steady increase of women in to senior positions.

In your experience, what is the split of men to women that you put forward for senior finances roles?

As has been reported there isn’t a barrier to entry for women at the entry level of careers in finance (for example, equal amounts of female graduates taken on by Top 4 / banks) or even through to mid-senior level finance positions where women are equally represented on shortlists, and in their positions in finance. However, for roles at the senior level there is definitely far less representation of women on shortlists. This is not down to companies either openly or discreetly discouraging applications from women, or there being a perception that women aren’t as strong, but rather there are less women applying for these positions.

Whether this is due to women lacking confidence to progress to more senior positions or there is a ‘stalling point’ in women’s careers, can be debated. What is very clear is that there still appears to be a large disparity between the numbers of women being submitted on shortlists in comparison to men.

Much has been written about the confidence gap between men and women, do you see evidence of this when dealing with candidates?

I haven’t personally experienced this; some people are more aggressive in negotiating salaries and benefits than others, so I don’t think it is down to gender! However, there is probably a case for a confidence gap when it goes to pursuing more senior positions. Of course, there is also the consideration that women who will have been working for enough time to be reaching the senior positions may also take one or more breaks in their careers to have children. For some there is a feeling that they are returning to work ‘one year behind’ and rightly or wrongly, many women may not pursue their career advancement as they might have done before as they are considering balancing family life with the demands of more senior roles or the risk of moving companies.

Whilst it is improving, and larger companies are certainly better at this, there is still some way to go in terms of the companies offering comfort to women that they join a company and may at some point wish to discuss flexible working etc. There is still nervousness amongst women at returning to work that they don’t want to be seen to rock the boat. This is what is causing the brain drain or bottle neck at the mid-senior level which in turn, is impacting the flow of candidates through to the senior level.

Do you think Finance roles work with flexible working hours that some women require?

I think that Finance roles can work as well as any other profession with flexible working and in some cases it can work even better. Many businesses that we work with at fdu group require part time Finance professionals which can work really well for both parties. There are also a number of senior candidates who are developing successful portfolio FD/CFO positions where they can combine interesting and challenging work on a 2, 3 or 4 day week.