ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Breaking barriers for women leaders in public finance

Author: Gillian Fawcett

Published: 29 Jul 2019

Today we have reached a turning point where it is unacceptable to allow gender inequalities that prevent women from aspiring to senior leadership positions to persist.

We need to change because there is a great opportunity to strengthen the pipeline of women into public finance jobs and leadership positions so that the advancement of gender equality proceeds in line with social and economic development.  The rationale for increasing female leadership is supported by clear evidence that it increases a country’s competitiveness and economic development, as well as having an impact on organisational and team performance.

PWC reported in its 18th Global CEO survey that over 85% of CEOs whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusion strategy say it has improved their bottom line, while enhancing innovation, collaboration, customer satisfaction and talent attraction1.  A 10 year analysis of 300 US start up investment companies with a female founder performed better than their male counterparts 2 and the World Bank Chief Executive is reported to have said that, ‘the world economy leaves $160 trillion on the table each year because women are unused, underused and/or underpaid’ 3.

Yet despite the evidence and the fact that women make up over half of the population they are still overlooked as a vital talent. When participants of the ICAEW webinar held on 18 July 2019 were asked whether there were sufficient numbers of women breaking through the glass ceiling in public finance - 100% respondents said ‘no’. This is perhaps not a surprise when we still have barriers, such as a significant number of countries having legal obstacles that prevent women working in the professions.

Whilst some progress has been made there is still a lot of work to do. There are too few women in leadership positions.  In OECD countries the gender pay gap has reduced over a decade, but in most cases men are paid on average 15% more than women 4

In Japan the gap is nearly 30% and in Italy 5%. The women’s share of parliamentary seats in OECD countries has increased over the last decade, but this is still short of a 50:50 split in all OECD countries 4. Germany had the highest percentage with over 35% of seats occupied by women. The National Institute of Public Finance and Policy  reported that in Asia Pacific it was a similar story regarding the numbers of women in parliaments 5.  However what is concerning is that, although the gender gap in labour participation was closing in most countries, in some it is widening. 

There are some fragments of good news:

  • India has its first female finance minister in almost 5 decades,
  • women are also having an increasing role in shaping economic governance despite the continuing gender equality gap; and
  • we now have a female Chief Executive of the Central Bank of Europe. 

However, out of 25 members on the governing board of the Bank only two are females.  In the UK women run only six government departments. There has never been a female Cabinet Secretary, female Governor of the Bank of England or female Chancellor of the Exchequer.

When participants from a range of countries taking part in the ICAEW webinar were asked whether this was a fair representation of the current landscape, 95% agreed that this was their experience. 

Whilst we have data across a number of related fields and professions we have little data in respect of women in public finance so we are not in a position to know how well they are fairing in leadership positions in comparison to their male counterparts. It is important that we begin to capture this data to drill down to the root causes of inequality in public finance, as this would improve the targeting of the causes and potentially lead to different design solutions. Above all, we need to ‘engender’ public finance, where women play an important part in the public policy decision-making process.

We need to break down the barriers (whether real or perceived) that prevent females from succeeding by shining a light on organisations and cultures that are set in the dark ages where overt female discrimination is allowed to thrive. We need to encourage flexible working practices and raise awareness about subtle and sometime unconscious bias against women. The mindsets of both men and women need to change if we are to achieve opportunity for all and unlock access to top management roles.  We need successful women leaders to support female talent and move away from the ‘queen bee syndrome’ where they pull up the ladders and forget to nurture young females rising up the ranks.  Interestingly there were mixed views about access of women to senior management positions as reflected in the polling results of those attending the ICAEW webinar, 63.6% thought this still was an issue whereas 36.4% felt progress had been made.

Having observed some of the challenges throughout my career led me to establish Public Finance by Women (PFW). We want to find a way to make a contribution to improving women’s standing in the field of public finance. PFW is a positive step forward and has the potential to make a material contribution to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 5 ‘To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.

My vision for the creation of PFW is to bring together women in public finance around the world and to be a driving force in promoting gender equality in public finance. The response to the new organisation to date has been overwhelmingly positive, and it became clear that there is a distinctive need for such a network.  PFW will connect women working in public finance around the world offering mentoring, peer support and guidance, as well as developing thought leadership and research to support women at different stages of their careers. To find out more visit the PFW website.

This content is only visible when the visitor has consented to allow all cookies. stream amg title

This video content is provided by StreamAMG. We ask for your permission before anything is loaded, as they are using cookies and other technologies. You may want to read StreamAMG owner's PA Media Group privacy policy before accepting. If you are happy to view this content, please choose Allow all cookies.

Gillian Fawcett, Co-Founder Public Finance by Women (PFW)

Gillian is a co-founder of Public Finance by Women (PFW) which focuses on supporting women working in public finance around the world to fulfill their career potential and promoting gender equality. She is also a freelance consultant in public policy, strategy and finance.