DCFO IWD Series: The female CFO – the right mix of numbers of empathy

Cassandra Chen – CFO of Beamtree Holdings (ASX:BMT) | 7 March 2022

Cassandra Chen

CFO of Beamtree Holdings

In Australia, gender diversity in the board room still needs a lot of work – despite making up 50% of the Australian workforce, only 1 in 5 Australian CEOs are women. And while the stats are disappointing, it gets worse when looking at ASX-listed coampnies. The 2021 Chief Executive Women Senior Executive Census found that women make up just a quarter of roles on executive leadership teams in the ASX200. A figure that hasn’t moved since 2019.

What is interesting to note is that despite the slow rate of change, as of end 2021, women actually make up 38% of CFO roles at ASX50 companies.

This means that the top 50 companies on the ASX have recognised the potential benefits of gender diversity at the C-suite.Even Australia’s super industry has begun to install diversity quotas in their investment mandates. HESTA for example has implemented a “40:40” Vision to ensure diversity in executive leadership in ASX 200 companies.

At the beginning of my career, I didn’t consider that I would end up being the CFO of an ASX listed company. I just wanted a stable job and to be a role model for my kids. I also didn’t think it is that possible for women to be in leadership or in the boardroom as there just weren’t many there.

There will always be the argument that quotas either don’t go far enough or shouldn’t even be required in the first place however, the returns are speaking for themselves.

Great diversity = better decisions and returns

Recent global research from Credit Suisse has identified companies with a 25% or greater diversified gender representation, generate higher returns (9.7% vs 6.8% for companies with minimal representation, respectively). The report further simplifies this as “the higher the diversity threshold, the higher the returns”.

Further research has also highlighted that as leaders women are more socially responsible, and provide safer higher-quality customer experiences.

As an Asian woman, having been the CFO of ASX-listed Beamtree Holdings for the last year, and part of the finance department for other listed and unlisted, small to multinational companies, I believe that women have different approaches that facilitate effective leadership. We are empathic, we are strong, we are resilient, we are fearless and selfless. We are doing a lot more that often goes unnoticed to support workplace culture.

Finance and value is more than numbers

As a CFO, you get to deliver the annual budget and operational plan and help set the long term strategic plan for the company which is incredibly powerful and important. However, finance is more than just numbers, debits and credits. Finance adds value to support the growth of the business by understanding the numbers and knowing how that relates to the business operations.

The Finance department is the one part of the company that touches, interacts and influences other departments – so understanding how your impact can drive the success of the business is key to growth and development. When this became apparent to me, I seized the opportunity and ran with it.  

Six years ago, I moved into supporting start-up business and was part of a successful IPO, which then led to capital raisings and various M&As.The experience was challenging and rewarding. The exposure to a range of founders, C-suites, and board members provided an invaluable learning experience that helped shape my career and into what it is today..

Know your value and influence

Women should recognise the different strengths they inherently bring to a business. Our differences in thinking and logic strikes a necessary balance of critical analysis of big issues.

As a female CFO working closely with the C-suite and board, I’ve noted that my leadership style varies compared to that of my male counterparts. Both have positives and negatives, but I and other woman naturally consider different components that are sometimes overlooked.

Remember that your differences, and what sometimes might be referred to as the “softer” skills, have the ability to separate yourself from the crowd and create opportunities, just as much as your experience and qualifications.

And you never know who you might be influencing with your leadership style.

As I progressed, seeing women take more leadership positions, and being supported by other women to be the best professional they could be gave me something to aspire to.

Therefore, I would encourage all women in executive positions to act as mentors, advocates, and most importantly role models for the next generation leaders because it will be felt long after you retire.

For me, I want to be a role model to my kids. I talk to them about my life experience, both the achievements and mistakes, from being an Asian migrants in Australia to becoming an executive in my profession hope to help them model their life skills.