Webinar reveals that digital transformation and support structures improves diversity

Leading women in finance and technology reveal that inclusion starts long before women enter the workforce.

On 10 August, CFO South Africa hosted a Women’s Month special edition webinar, in partnership with OneStream Software, which revealed that through digital transformation and management support structures, organisations can improve their diversity and inclusivity.

“Most good businesses have been working towards becoming more diverse and inclusive for a number of years,” said CFO South Africa head of marketing Judith Kamffer. “Covid-19 has taught us that, among other things, almost everything can be done remotely. This holds a promise of more inclusivity through digitisation, specifically for women.”

Judith then handed over to Innate Investment Solutions CEO and founder Lynette Ntuli, who explained how digital transformation of the finance function can transform strategy, inclusivity and diversity through partnering with your people and business.

“Historically, the finance function’s DNA has always been driven by reporting, controls, a lot of administration, making sure that the business itself is performing and being able to document its journey of growth, delivery and financial value,” Lynette said.

She explained that what was also required behind the scenes to support that DNA was the administrative work of financial operations, controls and reporting, while the more strategic, insightful and almost predictive information that comes from performance took the least amount of time.

“Because of technology a lot of that administrative work and putting together the reports and controls can actually be automated,” Lynette said. “Through using the latest tools, finance will spend far less time on the administrative work, and more on the financial performance of the organisation.”

This, she explained, gives the finance function time to influence decisions and to contribute to the narrative of value in the overall organisation. “Now the finance function can prioritise more time partnering for value to influence our stakeholders.”

Adding new seats to the table
Lynette added that these stakeholders will also change because of digital transformation, and organisations will not only ask themselves who is currently at the table, but more importantly what new seats they can create at the table.

“This is going to force the finance function away from a compliance driven function, to one that is more collaborative, more inclusive and one that, in putting these different people at the table, must find interesting and innovative ways to make sure that women and machines are collaborating.”

She explained that, with finance now being the storyteller of the value journey of the business, the function will move from just being a technical and contextual partner to one that also takes leadership around what people and the digital transformation of an organisation brings to that value creation story. “As we enlarge the table and add more seats, people and the use of their talents, as well as our digital resources, are going to become the centre of how the finance function is enabled to tell the value creation story.”

Lynette said that women have always been the greatest storytellers and co-ordinators of structured and unstructured information. “We listen more; we tap into different sets of information intuitively and digitally. If you don’t have an inclusive and diverse stakeholder set seated at this new finance partner table, what your business actually says to itself is that while it focuses on the technicalities of what a technology DNA looks like, it completely misses the point of being a narrator of a value driven story that is actually going to carry it sustainably into the future.”

Sasfin Bank product manager Michelle Breytenbach said that, throughout her career, she was the only woman at the table or in her department. “Lately, it hasn’t changed that much,” she said. “When I’m at a senior, manager or executive level table, it is still mostly men around the table.”

Research shows that women account for less than two percent of financial institution CFOs. The global share of women board directors in major financial services is only 23 percent. And only 25 percent of women enter the technology field.

Change starts at the beginning
Michelle explained that, at a practical level, there is still a lot of change that has to happen to change these statistics. She said that one of the key drivers that will change the people that enter this world of work is education. “If education fulfills its potential for both girls and boys, it can drive gender equality and create a peaceful, prosperous, healthy, sustainable world.”

She added that pulling women into the world of finance and technology needs to start long before they enter the job market. “We have to win their hearts and minds already at school level. We have to look at our schools and universities and think whether we are equipping our children with the right tools, technology and career advice.”

Lynette agreed with Michelle, saying that society isn’t catching women’s interest and awareness early enough. “We typically give dolls to girls and trucks and Legos to boys. And already in just the wiring and socialisation we’re distancing girls from opportunities and distancing their interest in making viable livelihoods.”

She explained that organisations need to create programmes that ignite young people’s interest in their specific industries and tools. “It has to be a sustained programme that sees young women through high school into higher education and into graduate opportunities or junior positions. If we can do that, we will be able to get the best of our talent, which is already intuitively quite digital in its language, exposure and socialisation.”

Michelle said that the presence of women in organisations has shown greater financial resilience in those industries. “Where women have a higher shareholding of boards in companies, those organisations have seen a 66 percent increase in return on investment. This strengthens the case for why we should be closing the gender gaps throughout the organisation.”

The right management structures
During the webinar, attendees had to answer a poll which asked why they felt their organisations weren’t diverse and inclusive enough yet. Most of the attendees believe that it's because of a lack of support from management structures.

OneStream Software enterprise account executive Simonia Marimuthoo explained that a big part of her success as a woman of colour in IT was having great managers who believed in her and that provided her with opportunities she might not have had otherwise. “I was given opportunities by my managers who saw the hunger that I had.”

Today, she leads by that same example. “Be a good human being and afford other people with the same opportunities that you’ve been afforded,” she said. “Or even if you weren’t afforded any opportunities, be the voice that gives them opportunity. Don’t wait for someone else to give it to them.”

Lynette explained that, in order to change the narrative for women in both business and at an educational level, a lot of mindset shifts need to happen. “In relearning some of the things we now need to do to accommodate women, and of course these new digital resources, we have to delve into how we can build pipelines of inclusivity.”

In closing, Simonia encouraged the women and men attending to be the change that they wish to see in the world and to give their employees the opportunity to be more.