Why diversity and inclusion matter in the world of treasury

14 November
Illustration of group of diverse professionals

ACT chief executive Caroline Stockmann tells Sally Percy about the important role that diversity and inclusion play in treasury team performance

In October 2017, The Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) launched its Diversity and Inclusion Calendar, with the aim of giving members insight into a broad range of diversity-related topics and thereby helping to create an environment conducive to greater diversity in treasury.

The Calendar consists of a series of evening events hosted by a supportive sponsor. Typically the format consists of a keynote address from a thought leader, a panel discussion that features treasurers and topic experts, and networking.

Among the topics that have been covered at events to date are: gender; ethnicity; LGBTQ+; financial wellbeing and unconscious bias.

In this Q&A, Caroline Stockmann, the ACT’s chief executive, talks about why she decided to set up the Diversity and Inclusion Calendar, and how harnessing difference improves the performance of treasury teams.

 

What prompted you to launch a diversity and inclusion programme at the ACT?

The aim of the Diversity and Inclusion Calendar is to give treasurers in the UK an opportunity to discuss and address various aspects of diversity.

At the events we often talk about solutions. What is it that businesses do in this particular area? How are people coping with this particular challenge?

People can get ideas from each other, discuss them during the networking and then take them back to their organisations to implement. The feedback from those who participate is excellent.

 Sometimes I think ‘inclusion’ is a more important concept than ‘diversity’  

The ACT is also involved with diversity and inclusion at an international level. I have run workshops in the Middle East and the Far East, and we have developed diversity and inclusion sessions to take place at the annual summit of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers (EACT).

I am deputy chair of the EACT and also the International Group of Treasury Associations, so I link in with my fellow international associations to ensure that diversity is on their agendas.

 

What are the advantages of having a diverse team?

I believe that with a diverse team you are far more likely to be successful in business.

If you accept each other’s diversity, you’re likely to get more creativity as well as different thinking, leading to different solutions to problems than if you had a very homogeneous group.

 

Does treasury face greater or lesser challenges with diversity compared with other professions?

In the UK and continental Europe, up to a third of treasurers are women.

Compared with some professions, that’s low. Compared with others, it’s not too bad and it’s on the rise. With our students, we see a greater balance of gender diversity.

So the question is: as people progress through their careers, will there be a glass ceiling, or will we see a change in the gender make-up at the top?

There are no statistics available for ethnicity in treasury, but clearly you don’t see a great amount of racial diversity within the profession. So I would say it’s trailing on that front behind some other professions.

 

Are there any advantages for treasury, in particular, of having a diverse team?

We have to be careful around expectations because in treasury there are certain dos and don’ts.

You do need to know your job and you do need to follow certain treasury policies and procedures for governance reasons so that you’re protecting the organisation. Creative accounting or creative treasury probably would not go down too well!

But if you are talking about how to organise things, or how to solve a problem, then diverse thinking is important. So is balance.

The evidence shows that if you have more than one woman on the board, there is more likely to be a balanced and collaborative approach in the boardroom.

Also, diversity is fun. Elsewhere in life, you have men and women together, so why would you want just men or just women at work?

When talking about topics such as gender and ethnicity, we should not make assumptions or pigeonhole people. Why assume that a black woman is different from a white man? We can’t say that in every case there’s difference.

Nevertheless, when we talk about diverse individuals – people who have clear differences between each other be it ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc – it is a proxy for diverse thinking.

This is because there is a greater likelihood that they have been brought up slightly differently, with different social and cultural norms, or indeed have had very different life experiences.

Sometimes I think ‘inclusion’ is a more important concept than ‘diversity’. It is about how you make people feel like they belong.

When you feel included in something, you feel comfortable so you’re going to give your heart to it – you’re going to collaborate and work well, and you’re going to offer your thoughts.

Aside from unconscious bias, what are the biggest barriers to having a truly diverse workforce?

Within treasury and many other professions, people are so busy with the day-to-day that it can feel a distraction and simply too much for them to pay attention to the range of topics flying at them – such as diversity, artificial intelligence and sustainability.

Often treasury teams consist of only two or three people who are trying to manage all kinds of things: the transition away from Libor, regulatory changes, the day job, more pressures on their business and the uncertainty of Brexit.

A lack of headspace causes some people to push diversity aside, but others bring it into the day-to-day and say: “This is something I just do, and for the longer term it is really important.”

I believe that these are the people who will ultimately be more successful and happy in their careers.

 

What do you think are the downsides, if any, to aiming for a diverse workforce?

I was an early adopter of research done by professors Joe DiStefano and Martha Maznevski at IMD Business School in Switzerland.

They say that a homogeneous team will work well together and generally get good results. On the other hand, a diverse team that does not yet get on, or does not understand itself, will not work well.

But a diverse team that does get on will outperform the homogeneous team.

Of course there will be tensions if people are different. It’s working through those tensions and going beyond them that brings new thinking, creativity and greater success.

 

Do you think there are any specific ‘groups’ or topics that need to be the focus of future diversity events?

We are gradually working our way through the whole spectrum of accepted definitions of diversity.

We’re also looking at intersectionality. For instance, there are connections between where people have felt a lack of inclusion due to being part of a perceived minority, and the onset of mental health issues – so now they are part of two ‘groups’ and therefore feel even less included.

We will explore new topics and come back to topics that are still burning issues and monitor their development.

I am again helping to organise the programme for our EACT Summit next April, so I’ve invited the ACT’s Future Leaders in Treasury group to run a session at that. This will look at the difference between treasurers now and in the future – and I’m sure age diversity will come up in that!

 

Which three things could all companies do to encourage a diverse workforce?

  1. Be aware and think it through. When recruiting, consider the gaps in the team not only in terms of technical competency, but also style, personality and preferences for ways of working. Think a little harder about what would really complement the team rather than appoint another ‘mini me’. That will be more challenging at first, but will work very well for you over time.
  2. Training on unconscious bias is very helpful to understand how we work as human beings. We can think of ourselves as the most inclusive people ever, but unconscious bias might affect us without us even knowing.
  3. Do the StrengthsFinder assessment test with your team. It will help you to see people’s preferences and what they’re strong at. Then you can ensure their job role is getting the best out of them and that you are playing to their strengths. People are far more likely to be successful and happy if they’re doing the things they’re good at!

 

About the author

Sally Percy is a freelance business journalist

This article was taken from the October/November 2019 issue of The Treasurer magazine. For more great insights, log in to view the full issue or sign up for eAffiliate membership

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