IWD Series 2023: The Importance Of Gender Equality And Diversity In Organizations

6 mins read

7 March 2023

Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM)

Gender equality and diversity are critical components of any organization that aims to create an inclusive and equitable workplace. It is essential to recognize and appreciate the diversity of the workforce and provide equal opportunities for all employees regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic.

When organizations promote diversity and gender equality, they foster a culture of acceptance, respect, and inclusion that leads to increased employee morale, productivity, and innovation. Gender diversity also brings a variety of perspectives to decision-making, leading to better business outcomes. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to prioritize gender equality and diversity in the workplace to create a more prosperous and equitable future for all employees.

To gain a deeper perspective of this in celebration of International Women’s’ Day, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

Women Being A Value-Add In The Finance Scene – “Having A Diverse Range Of Opinions And Perspectives Is Key To Building A Full Picture”

A key function of Finance is to tell the organization’s story in numbers. To paint that picture, Finance needs to engage different business units to understand their challenges and interpret their financial performance to senior management. This requires a softer collaborative approach which women tend to generally be stronger in.

“Women are also more expressive, which is advantageous in financial presentations, as we need to tell a story using numbers,” says Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

Women ask more “what-if” questions as they are more conscious of risks. This is an important perspective in the current VUCA world, especially for Finance. CFOs are expected to guide businesses to navigate uncertainty. Gone are the days where companies could present one annual plan based on fixed stable business assumptions. More than ever, Finance has to develop several planning scenarios with their business partners.

For instance, if oil prices and utilities’ tariffs continue to increase, what corrective actions could be taken? Similarly, if there was a decrease, would the organization try to lock-in rates? How would the annual financial plan be affected? The planning process becomes more robust with more “what-if” questions and companies will be better prepared to handle uncertainties. This is an important benefit of having a woman’s perspective in Finance.

Changes To Gender Diversity & Inclusivity In The Finance Industry

Ms. Yeo definitely sees gender inclusivity improving over the years. Starting at the top, more companies have policies to include women representation on their boards. Before closing a meeting, it is now a common practice for the meeting lead to ask each participant if he/she has any final questions before the meeting is closed. This improves engagement and inclusivity as women tend to wait for their turn to speak in a meeting.

“A good Finance person must “walk the ground” to understand business operations and build relationships,” says Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

When Ms. Yeo held a regional work portfolio with company headquarters outside of Singapore, regular travel was necessary. When her kids were young and needed attention, each work trip was challenging but she is grateful that the companies and managers she worked for were supportive and allowed flexibility in meeting timings and travel locations. With the recent acceptance of virtual meetings, there is less time taken away from home for working mothers. Interestingly, the new norms created by the pandemic have increased more opportunities for women who want to take on international or regional roles.

With more companies adopting ESG frameworks around the world, Ms Yeo looks forward to more women inclusivity practices in Finance. For instance, more can be done to include women in the talent pipeline for senior Finance positions. Career planning also needs to be done carefully as there are many disciplines within Finance. Therefore, companies should have multi-year learning and development plans for women. Women need this visibility to manage the multiple roles they play in different stages of their life i.e., wife, mother, daughter, etc.

The Benefits Of Having Various Perspectives & Diversity In A Finance Team

A banker friend of Ms. Yeo once cheekily commented: “A Profit & Loss (P&L) statement is an opinion. The truth is in the bank account!” To some extent, that is true as the P&L statement should fairly represent the state of affairs of the company. A finance team needs to have diverse perspectives in order to stress test that the presented financials are fair.

“Finance is not only about numbers and spreadsheets. Finance is also a strategic partner in guiding the organization to achieve their financial goals,” says Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

As women are more empathetic, they are better at relating to other people. As such, women in Finance can be strong advocates for customers and this is useful in product development and improving customer service.

From a governance point of view, Finance plays a significant role in presenting relevant information to the Board for decision-making. Very often, Finance is also expected to make recommendations on strategic and operational matters so that the company can meet their financial KPIs.  Good recommendations can only be made when different perspectives are considered. Finance is a multidimensional and multifaceted discipline. Diversity of views and perspectives is a key ingredient for a finance team’s success. 

Career-Gender Stereotypes In Hindering Women From Pursuing A Finance Career

Ms. Yeo believes it is the scope and expectations of Finance which hinders women from entering a career in Finance. Deadlines in Finance are non-negotiable – monthly closing, tax returns, annual audits, board meetings etc. As many of these are regulatory or statutory compliance deadlines, there is no flexibility. The time pressure puts many people off a career in Finance.

With the world getting increasingly borderless with advanced technology, the speed of work has significantly increased. Quicker responses are expected to emails and people are working 24/7 to keep up. The pandemic has also accelerated the speed of change and many companies had to transform to keep up. Finance must keep up and will be the receiving end of these changes. Afterall, every transaction in a company has a financial footprint. Over the last few years, we have definitely seen more finance people going through burn-out because of these reasons.

For women, the challenges inherent in a finance career can be barriers if companies do not help to manage them properly. 

Policies Organizations Should Have In Place To Promote Gender Equality, Inclusivity And Diversity

Senior Management must set the tone at the top with clear displays of gender inclusivity in executive teams. They can show how business performance and employee engagement improves when workplaces are open and supportive of diversity. Organizations should also put in place a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Policy to set the guiding principles and expectations of roles for leaders, managers and staff, align work practices and raise awareness of DEI considerations (e.g., flexible work arrangements, training on sexual harassment). Feedback from staff can also be sought at town halls on how to further improve diversity. 

Secondly, organizations can also consider setting inclusiveness goals and hold managers accountable for delivery. For instance, in a learning and development program, the finance division can have a target to sponsor at least one woman to complete a certified public accountant qualification. Or the finance division must include at least one woman in a management rotation program. 

Finally, the organization should develop a hiring strategy to consider women candidates for business units where there is less gender diversity. Naturally, the successful candidate should be hired based on merit. However, the hiring manager would have the benefit of reviewing a diversity of candidates during the selection process.  

“At SIM, we have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policy which underscores our commitment to providing a workplace that embraces DEI,” emphasized Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

Across the organization, at senior management level, females make up almost 50% and at managerial levels, this figure stands at almost 58%. 77% of SIM’s workforce are in their 20s to 40s, and 20% are from minority races. Within SIM’s Finance team specifically, females are represented across all seniority levels, more than 50% of the team are in their 20s to 40s, and 10% are from a minority race. This brings in a multitude of varied perspectives to everyday conversations and challenges, and a degree of agility and adaptability which is very much needed for the future of work.

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