10 March 2023
In recent years, we have witnessed a significant shift in the financial industry with women increasingly taking on leadership roles and making significant contributions to the field. Despite the long-standing gender gap in finance, women have been steadily breaking through barriers and proving their mettle in what was once considered a male-dominated industry.
From asset management to investment banking and private equity, women are making their presence felt at every level of finance. In fact, studies show that companies with more women in leadership positions tend to have better financial performance and are more innovative.
As more women break through the barriers in finance, we can expect to see a shift in the industry’s culture and a move towards greater gender equality. This is not just a matter of fairness; it is essential for businesses to thrive and innovate in today’s increasingly competitive and diverse world.
To get a more in-depth and personal view of what women go through whilst pursuing a leadership career in finance, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Ms. Youjin Lee, Cluster CFO, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Schneider Electric. Here’s what she had to share.
Pursuing A Career In Finance
Ms. Lee majored in economics at university and after graduating, she pursued a career at a multinational bank and financial services corporation. Her remit back then involved working extensively on mergers and acquisitions where she was required to review countless financial reports.
While there were skills transferrable from university as well as lessons that she picked up on the job, Ms. Lee saw the need to upskill and pursue formal training in accounting to be even more adept at her job. It was then that Ms. Lee decided to study accounting, while working full-time, and seek accreditation as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
“It was also around then when I joined Schneider Electric’s Korea office as a project financial controller, eventually reaching the position that I am in today,” says Ms. Youjin Lee.
Upskilling and professional education provides the labour force with the tools needed to remain competitive in the ever-evolving job market. It also presents professionals with the opportunity to gain the relevant certifications needed to perform certain job functions.
The Biggest Barriers Faced, As A Woman In Finance
Schneider Electric’s efforts towards achieving gender equality through policy development, representation and reporting have been recognised at a global level through industry benchmarks like the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index (GEI). In 2023, the company was listed for the sixth consecutive year in the Bloomberg GEI, and also achieved the highest-ever score of 81%, which puts them well-above the global average of 73%.
“I am thankful that even during times where I struggled with self-doubt due to the nature of a project, or the responsibilities undertaken, I am heartened that I have a supportive team that strives alongside me,” says Ms. Youjin Lee, Cluster CFO, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Schneider Electric.
That has allowed everyone to collectively overcome challenging projects, and feel empowered to be strategic and leverage the unique strengths of the team to take the steps needed to meet the shared business objective.
One Key Leadership Lesson Learned In Her Journey As A CFO
“Throughout my career so far, I have been privileged to have met and been mentored by many other successful individuals. I am therefore convinced that my successes to date are not simply due to individual effort but from the joint support of the many that I have worked with, and have taken me under their wing.”
With the privilege that Ms. Lee has from her current role, she constantly looks forward to paying it forward by looking for opportunities to collaborate with her colleagues, to take on the role of mentor, and to shape the teams that she works with to pursue active collaboration for joint successes.
Possible Reasons For Not Having Many Women CFOs In The World
“We recognise that progress in driving access to such roles can be challenging and experiences do vary across the globe, depending on cultural and social norms that are being subscribed,” says Ms. Youjin Lee.
In recent years, however, there has been growing recognition of the importance of women’s contribution, especially in senior leadership positions and STEM roles – roles which have been up until now dominated by men.
As more people embrace changing social attitudes towards gender roles and equality, it is encouraging to see that institutions are doing their part to break the bias and narrow the inequality gap between genders. Female representation in such roles of power and influence can catalyse robust governance, responsible stewardship, and the fostering of new skills and perspectives. This makes it an efficacious driver of growth and business success, which would be key in bearish post-COVID markets.
Juggling Work Commitments As A CFO With Family Commitments
“Regardless of gender, I believe that balancing work and familial expectations will always be a juggling act.”
What Ms. Lee has found helpful, is to always communicate with family and colleagues about her priorities and key milestones at work, or at home that are coming her way. This has helped manage expectations on both sides, making it easier for Ms. Lee to focus her resources accordingly.
With that said, she is proud to be able to work for an organisation that prioritises life outside work, and especially for key moments in life, such as when welcoming a new baby. As of the start of this year, Schneider Electric’s employees in Singapore who are new fathers can already take paid secondary parental leave of 4 weeks, instead of 2 weeks. New mothers can also now take paid primary parental leave of 20 weeks, instead of 16 weeks.
Family-friendly policies are essential to creating a diverse, supportive work environment that would allow employees the peace of mind and the confidence to contribute their best selves when they are at work.
Advice For Women Who Are Aiming For Leadership Positions
“It is very important to always work towards a goal at work. This means envisioning a role you would like to have and reverse engineering the steps needed to attain such a role,” says Ms. Youjin Lee.
Having a clear goal gives you a sense of direction and helps zero in on tasks and milestones that are most important. This can increase productivity and efficiency and reduce distractions along the way. At the same time, by hitting these milestones, it will be a boost to one’s morale, allowing one to continue persevering on and unlocking greater fulfilment and satisfaction at work.
Concurrently, never feel embarrassed to proactively share your aspirations with your colleagues and supervisors. More often than not, Ms. Lee has found that they will be more than happy to guide, and even help open doors for you that will be beneficial to your career.