Two decades ago, when this writer was a 23-year-old first-year associate, I set a goal of becoming the top treasury management leader in a major financial services institution. At the time, those positions were only held by men, and the vision seemed wildly ambitious. Today, the paradigm has changed significantly. Women in treasury management have achieved many milestones, but there’s still important progress to be made.
Historically, treasury management has been a space within banking where women have done particularly well. So much of what happens within our area is about consumer behaviour, and women are the ultimate consumers – more buying decisions are made by women across the country at every point along the age spectrum. We are better positioned to understand consumer likes and dislikes, and this insight gives us a powerful competitive edge.
Emotional quotient (EQ) is also critical in treasury management – the ability to listen, learn and care deeply about customers and colleagues. Women can put their natural strengths in these areas to work to help their organisations sharpen their customer focus and anticipate consumer and industry trends.
As with most areas of finance, women know that they have to work twice as hard to succeed, and so we do. This grit, determination and attention to detail are especially relevant and valuable in treasury management – given the focus on risk management and execution – and these qualities give them yet another competitive advantage.
Confronting the challenges
Yet women face some difficult challenges, as well. First and foremost, they have to push themselves to embrace and master the technology parts of our business – an area typically dominated by men. Technology and innovation are transforming the entire treasury management space, and the pace of change is ramping up every day. Companies have to move faster and be more aggressive in embracing new approaches to invoicing and payments, and in pursuing partnerships with tech startups.
If women drag their feet in treasury management, it can have an adverse effect on the entire organisation. This means overcoming any fears of technology they might have and becoming experts in the tech-driven areas of the business. If you want to be a senior treasury management leader, you have to stay ahead of the technology curve.
There are specific steps that companies and leaders can and should do to get more women in senior treasury management roles and help make sure the playing field is level, and management has to make these a priority. When they recruit, they have to look at women candidates for all roles. Management also has to make stretch opportunities more available and visible to women.
For women aspiring to become treasury management leaders, my advice is to make sure you have a great brand – then the opportunities will materialise. Be known for doing great work, being thorough, ambitious and smart. Develop “special sauce”; skills sets or strengths that differentiate you and make you invaluable. Put your hand up for assignments. Women often wait until they know how to do a job before they apply for it. Have the confidence to put yourself in the running for a job that stretches you.
Make it a daily practice to stay ahead of industry trends and stay connected. You can do this by sharpening your technology skills, continuing your education, volunteering to lead new projects and constantly networking inside of your organisation and across the industry.
Mentoring is another critical component for success. If you don’t have a mentor, seek out one who inspires you and recognises your talent. As you climb the ladder, pay back the compliment and find a younger woman to mentor. The virtuous circle of women mentoring women is an engine for change.
Look for opportunities to serve as a board member, especially for technology startup companies. You’ll gain valuable exposure to new, disruptive technologies and make career-long contacts.
Lastly, take the time to identify and define a career vision that aligns with your unique strengths and goals. Don’t just push yourself to get the next promotion – have a clear destination in mind.
Early on in my career, as that ambitious first-year associate, I sat down and thought about what specific qualities I wanted most in a job. That meant learning, teaching, and travel within the financial services industry. It involved identifying a senior executive who had a position encompassing all three – the head of treasury management at the financial services company where I was then working. I set an aspirational goal of having his job in 15 to 20 years; a specific vision that gave me something to work towards and a clear target to hit.
Today, women lead treasury management businesses across the financial industry. They have momentum, talent and drive, and they work in an area that offers fascinating new opportunities. I couldn’t be more optimistic or excited about what’s ahead, and about where the next generation of women leaders will take treasury management in the future.
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