Women are Leading the Way towards Modern Finance
Updated: May 8
Every year, Women’s History Month takes place in March in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Across the globe, it's a time to recognize and honor women's achievements. Women have fought tirelessly for the freedoms and privileges we have today since International Women's Day (IWD) was first celebrated in 1908. And recently, there has certainly been a lot more to celebrate.
In 2021, one hundred years after women won the right to vote, America elected Kamala Harris as the first female vice president and the highest-ranking elected female figure in American history. During the pandemic, a number of notable women in science have made significant contributions. We've come a long way in improving women's rights and gender equality in many industries, from landing NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars to shattering records in landing CEO roles in America's largest corporations.
The same can be said for the finance world too. According to a Bloomberg article, companies in the United States hired a record number of CFOs in 2020. As of August 2020, 90 women held the CFO role at S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.
In honor of Women's History Month, and keeping with this year's International Women's Day theme of #BreakTheBias, let’s look at several inspiring women who have made major contributions as financial world leaders. These women are climbing the corporate ladder, breaking the glass ceiling, building diverse teams, creating new business models, and showing us that statistics and industries can and do change in time.
Amy Hood, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft
Amy Hood joined Microsoft in 2002 and currently serves as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, overseeing the company's global finance operation. This includes participation in the overall operations and strategy development of the company. For the past eight years, she has worked alongside Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella as a strategic partner, driving long-term financial growth, advocating culture, and leading corporate initiatives such as Microsoft's commitments to climate change and affordable housing.
Kendra James-Anderson, Virtual CFO and Owner of The Finance Femme
Kendra James-Anderson's experience as a financial planning analysis manager in a variety of industries inspired her to create The Finance Femme because she identified a significant void in the financial management industry. CFOs at billion-dollar corporations served as strategic partners to CEOs, assisting with day-to-day decision-making based on facts, data, and analysis, but this was not the case for smaller businesses. They were frequently left working with CPA and accounting firms whose business approach was more reactive than proactive.
As a result, she created the Virtual CFO service to serve businesswomen as a financial partner, providing high-value services that can provide forward-thinking support they need. Kendra not only helps businesswomen with their financial needs on a daily basis with Virtual CFO, but she also coaches and mentors women in the accounting, finance, and tax industries, assisting them in growing their businesses and brands.
Dhivya Suryadevara, Chief Financial Officer at Stripe
Dhivya Suryadevara is the Chief Financial Officer at Stripe, a global technology company that builds economic infrastructure for the internet helping millions of companies of all sizes manage their businesses online. She was the Chief Financial Officer at General Motors prior to joining Stripe. With her appointment as CFO at GM in 2018, GM became one of two Fortune 500 companies with a female CEO (Mary Barra) and CFO (Hershey is the other company). Dhivya opted to join Stripe because she believes that the internet is still not the engine for global economic advancement that it could be. In 2015 and 2018, Dhivya was included on Forbes' '40 Under 40' list. In addition, in 2020, she was named one of Barron's 100 Most Influential Women in US Finance.
Kathy Willard, Chief Financial Officer at Live Nation Entertainment
Kathy Willard has been the CFO of the world's leading live entertainment, ticketing, and e-commerce company since 2007, and she has surely built up the company's financial strength to survive the challenges posed by the pandemic. In fact, Live Nation stated in March 2020 that all concerts will be placed on hold indefinitely, establishing a standard of safety and caution for the rest of the industry. She was the company's executive vice president and chief accounting officer for nine years before taking up the CFO position at Live Nation.
Zita Cobb, CFO, Businesswoman, and Social Entrepreneur
Zita Cobb, a Canadian businesswoman, and social entrepreneur spent years as a CFO in the high-tech industry before retiring and returning to her hometown of Fogo Island with a mission: to do something about the economic and cultural issues the small coastal community had faced in the past few decades. Zita co-founded the Shorefast Foundation with her brothers, a registered Canadian charity whose purpose is to revitalize Fogo Island as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. The Foundation puts all of its profits back into the community by operating businesses and employing people in the Fogo area. The Fogo Island Inn, a community-owned enterprise that launched in 2013, is one example.
Women to the Power of Modern Finance
Finance will always be about the numbers but now that’s become table stakes. Modern finance is about adding more value, about leveraging new technologies, about the convergence of new skill sets and new technology. It’s about human intuition and machines, working together. Here are 3 examples of top female finance executives across various industries and which modern financial solutions they chose to strengthen their finance teams and lead their company into success.
Annette De Young, Director of FP&A at J.L. Clark
For J.L. Clark, an industry-leading supplier of high-quality metal lithography and custom metal, plastic, and combination packaging, gathering the data for financial reports was their main problem. Kathy Opsahl, an Operations Financial Analyst at J.L. Clark explains “feeling that this is so repetitive, and it takes so long, and I do the same thing literally every day, and it’s not a lot of value-added just to get the numbers.” The solution they found was to spend less time on low-value tasks. They did so by implementing the DataRails FP&A platform and went from spending hours on low-value manual effort to creating updated financial statements in minutes. “I think for the most part, especially for the finance team, there’s been a lot of time-saving,” said J.L. Clark’s Director of FP&A Annette De Young. “DataRails has enabled us to give the rest of the company more data and more results and to answer questions quickly. I think for us this really has been a game-changer.”
Laura Ciezaldo, Director of Finance at Argon Medical Devices
Laura Ciezadlo, Director of Finance at Argon Medical Devices, describes that during her career she witnessed the evolution of finance from paper to software-based processes. “Technology has brought us a better reporting experience overall. We now understand our KPIs and what the numbers represent with one version of the truth.” Ciezadlo and her team made one big leap from Excel-based consolidation to OneStream, which has been quite successful. “OneStream has given us speed, accuracy, and discipline.”
Michaela Peisger, CFO at KPMG Germany
To keep up with the pace of industry change, KPMG Germany embarked on a transformative project to shape the future role of finance in the company. Chief Financial Officer, Michaela Peisger, explains “We needed a planning system which integrates all planning processes.” With the help of the Board’s decision-making platform, they were able to create a standardized planning process covering everything from strategic plans down to detailed costs. The result was greater efficiency, flexibility, and visibility in all FP&A activities.
While there is still a gender gap in the finance industry, the women of finance are blazing a trail, and we can expect a rise in women's contributions in the coming years.