While much has been done over the last couple of years to address the issue of women being under represented in Senior Finance and Board level appointments, there is still work to be done in this area to address gender diversity at CFO level. Rutherford Cross has interviewed Female Finance Directors/CFOS to discuss the routes they have taken, challenges they have faced, and their advice for aspirant Female Senior Finance professionals looking to make the move into a Director/Board level appointment.
Here we feature Sara White, a CFO who started her career at PwC as an Auditor before moving into banking where she covered various commercial roles with international exposure. Sara then spent several years with a growing SME Telecommunication business as Finance Director before latterly becoming the CFO and then COO of the Glasgow Memory Clinic.
Can you provide a short summary of your career to date and the positions held?
I completed my accountancy training with PwC and then moved to a project role at The Royal Bank of Scotland. I was at RBS for almost six and a half years and in that time had various roles including Head of Decision Support for Direct Line Financial Services and Lombard Direct, and Head of Finance for their Independent Financial Services Division. I also worked abroad setting up the finance function for Kroger Personal Finance in America.
I left RBS and moved into telecoms construction as FD for Mono Consultants for nearly seven years and then totally changed industry again to work for the Glasgow Memory Clinic. I was there for nearly five years initially as CFO then from 2018 to this summer as COO. I am now taking a break as I have had a baby and want to focus on family rather than running a company for a short while!
What do you think has been the most difficult challenge you have faced in your career to date and how did you overcome it?
There have been many challenges and it is probably too hard to single out one! I think the key to overcoming any challenge is working through things logically, if you need to take advice from specialist then know when that is appropriate. Work hard and always communicate and “everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end”.
Reflecting on your career journey to date is there anything you would consider doing differently?
I am really grateful for all of the experiences and opportunities I’ve had but they have come at the cost of working lots of hours. I’ve never considered anything apart from a finance related role but I really enjoy the legal aspects of contracts and deals, so I would maybe consider being a lawyer in a different life!
What would you say are the top three skills/attributes you have mastered that have helped you most in the role of Finance Director?
- Excellent communication skills are vital, whether that be with the board, investors, customers or internally within the company
- Have the confidence to do what is right for the business, have difficult conversations and challenge the MD/CEO/Owner whilst still supporting them
- Have a good commercial understanding of the business, drivers, and the market is key to being successful
As a female Finance Director/COO do you feel there have been greater obstacles for you to face to achieve the position you are in and if so, how did you overcome these?
You can often be the only female in a Senior Management meeting or around a Board table which in your younger years can be very intimidating. When you are younger you are always looking to make an impression and hoping for the next promotion, so it can be scary, but it’s important to embrace the opportunity
I think making your voice heard at the appropriate time, always doing your homework, standing up for yourself and what’s right for the company, and don’t be afraid to make difficult decisions. Always have confidence in yourself, work on relationships, and you will progress.
With there being a greater focus now on ensuring greater gender balance in leadership roles do you feel enough is being done by businesses to ensure females are able to access these roles and if not, where do you think they can improve ?
A lot of larger companies are focusing on the gender balance which is great but smaller companies probably find that harder. Being the primary caregiver for a child has its challenges and more businesses embracing working from home or flexible working will make it easier for women in Senior positions to fulfil their aspirations in both work and at home.
Is there a particular person who has been a big influence on your career to date?
I have been asked this question many times before and the honest answer is my Dad. He has been the biggest influence on my work ethic and drive in my career. My dad came from a very poor background and worked very hard to ensure his family had a good upbringing. From a young age he matched what money I earned and saved, so it gave me a good drive to work hard from a young age and value money.
With there being an increasing focus on work/life balance and ensuring health and wellbeing in and outside of work what do you like to do in your spare time to help you switch off?
Physical and mental health are so important, and you definitely need to dedicate time to ensure you have a good balance. I’m currently doing Cycle 3 of my Joe Wicks 90 day plan so that is keeping me busy cooking and exercising!
For aspirant Female Finance Directors who might feel daunted at the prospect of going for a promotion/leadership role, what advice would you give them?
Every situation will be different but I would say just go for it. If you have a mentor, talk to them and if you don’t feel ready to take the next step then prioritise working on the areas where you need to develop, make a plan and then go for it.
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