Co-founder Mazuma
Columnist
Share this content

International women's day: The power of the female management team

8th Mar 2018
Co-founder Mazuma
Columnist
Share this content
Business women sit on train
istock_mkitina4

To celebrate International women’s day, Mazuma Accountant’s Lucy Cohen reflects on her firm's female management team, in a world where fewer senior business roles are held by women than their male counterparts. 

Yesterday I cried at my desk.  

I am the CEO of a company. I am, by other people’s description, a bit of tough nut. I am articulate, bright and sassy. I am human. And yesterday a perfect confluence of business, life and family stressors layered upon me and I cried.

For some people this is their worst nightmare. Imagine the absolute shame of crying in front of your colleagues. My staff must think I’m a weak leader now, right? They must have lost all respect for me - how will I ever get them to take me seriously again…

Let’s rewind a bit.

For what seems like forever, the idea of a business leader has prevailed as someone who triumphs without emotion. They overcome the odds, they lead their staff boldly and bravely and never show weakness. They negotiate hard and are not be messed with.

If you Google image search the term ‘business leader’ you’re met with a plethora of images of men in suits looking stern, or professional, or shaking hands with other men dressed in suits. Powerful stuff. But it’s not true, is it? This idea that being a leader requires you to be some sort of emotionless automatron is codswallop. I actually think it’s pretty damaging to the leaders of the future.

I went to an all-girls school from the age of 11-16. In those years I learned the power of female teams. Of course at the time it didn’t cross my mind; it was just the norm. But as I have advanced in age, and life has thrown more experience at me, I‘ve realised how valuable those formative years were for me.

In my secondary school, I was no longer in an environment where “boys played football and girls played netball” as had been the case in primary school. In fact, in primary school the punishment for naughty boys was to play netball with the girls, instead of playing football. I hope my teachers cringe when they think about that now.

No, secondary school had no gender divides because we were all girls. So we just got to do everything. I never questioned that the outside world was any different.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I was asked at networking events whether I was working for my dad’s company. Or if I was the company PA.

So after those sorts of experiences, it never really occurred to me that the very fact of my gender might raise eyebrows when I set up my own accountancy firm in my 20s. Rightly or wrongly there is a stereotype of what an accountant looks like. And myself and my business partner most certainly didn’t fit it. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I was asked at networking events whether I was working for my dad’s company. Or if I was the company PA. When I answered the phone I was asked on more than one occasion if I was the secretary. Even in 2006, it seems that some gender stereotypes prevailed in the world of accountancy.

As our company grew and we needed to take on staff, something quite interesting happened. I started noticing our culture evolving. Because of the way that we work, our roles are attractive to working parents. We offer a great flexibility of hours and are always willing to make things work for the right person. By the very nature of parental leave at the time (back then only women were taking it, and even now it’s predominantly women who reduce their working hours for family reasons), we noticed that our roles were being applied for by professional women who wanted their careers as well as their family. With us, they didn’t have to compromise - they could have both.

Perhaps a company led by two women also seemed an attractive proposition to other women in finance. Finance has a bit of a macho reputation - we looked like we were offering a different style of leadership.

Finance has a bit of a macho reputation - we looked like we were offering a different style of leadership.

So as people progressed throughout the organisation, we have ended up in a noteworthy position of having an entirely female management team.

(And before I get accused of gender bias - yes we do hire men. Currently we have about a 67/33 female/male staffing ratio. And we have had male managers in the past. Hiring is always based on the right person for the job first and foremost.)

What’s the point here though? Big deal; you’re a woman and you hired women and now they’re managers. Who cares? Well, it makes the dynamic of our organisation really quite unusual - especially in the industry we are in.

Forbes reported in 2016 that almost four in ten businesses in G7 countries have no women in senior management positions. Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women stands at 24%. A study by Visible Women in 2016 found that nearly two-thirds of accountancy firms have no women listed as executive board members, partners or senior accountants, with nearly all having five or fewer.

So for us to have a 100% female management is incredibly rare.

And it makes things run differently in the workplace. In the past, I’ve worked in a super macho environment. It was rife with burn out, with sacrificing family time for work, with stress and unhappiness. People felt the need to compete, to divide and conquer, to out-do their colleagues. There was almost a pride in saying that people had worked so hard they had barely seen their children in days. It wasn’t fun. Granted, no one cried at their desks. Instead, they shouted at each other and then went out drinking, only to repeat the cycle again the following day/week/month.

In the past, I’ve worked in a super macho environment. It was rife with burn out, with sacrificing family time for work, with stress and unhappiness.

I wonder what the response would have been to someone crying in one of those macho organisations?

The response in my firm was nothing but overwhelming support. Without delay my senior managers came to me to see what was wrong. I got to talk it through. They all, without hesitation, offered me support. From the practical of “I’ll take that conference call for you” to the emotional; just letting me get it out of my system while they offered me a sympathetic ear.

In our management team over the last 10 years people have experienced births, deaths, marriages, divorces, illness, loves and heartbreak. That’s not unique to an all-female management team - that’s just life. But maybe what is more unique is that all of us feel comfortable enough to share these parts of our lives with each other.

As I have said before in other articles I’ve written, nowadays the lines between work and life are irrevocably blurred. It’s unfeasible to keep those two things entirely separate. So in our company we simply don’t.

The day I cried at my desk was also the day that we did some amazing work as a team in creating new processes that we are excited to trial over the coming months; it was an incredibly productive and inspiring day.

So did crying at my desk make my team think less of me? Quite the opposite.

My authentic display of vulnerability didn’t rattle my team, it rallied them.  

And that’s the power of my female management team.

 

Replies (18)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

Stepurhan
By stepurhan
08th Mar 2018 16:07

It saddens me greatly that it requires a female management team for it to be OK to cry. The idea that men shouldn't cry and that crying is a sign of weakness is one of the worst concepts to persist in modern society (as demonstrated by Lucy's past tales of burnout, stress and unhappiness)

Thanks (1)
Replying to stepurhan:
avatar
By johnjenkins
09th Mar 2018 09:35

You're wrong there, Stepurhan. I cried my eyes out, in front of my female colleague, when I read this article.

Thanks (2)
avatar
By why always me
09th Mar 2018 09:43

Had the staffing been 67 male /33 female, and men in charge would that be considered biased?
Too many people jumping on the equality bandwagon. I could not care less what gender you are as long as you can do the job. Employers should not even have to worry about this. When they do, it leads to 'positive' discrimination which I have always found breeds contempt and hampers and equality argument.

Thanks (2)
avatar
By JasonRodwell
09th Mar 2018 10:08

I agree that more needs to be done, but it's interesting how it seems to bring out the worst in some people.

I think the most important thing is that we can reach a point where it does not matter if you are male or female, you have the equal chances to work, family and the life of your dreams.

It's something in my upbringing that I thought was a given, so it is astounding when I learnt that it is not the case.

I hope we can all come together and support women everywhere beyond just international women's day.

Thanks (0)
Replying to JasonRodwell:
avatar
By johnjenkins
09th Mar 2018 10:41

You seem to forget, this is our second woman PM. In this country we promote on merit and we treat our women with respect. Unfortunately the occasional blips get blown up out of all proportion.

Thanks (0)
Replying to johnjenkins:
avatar
By JasonRodwell
09th Mar 2018 10:57

johnjenkins wrote:

You seem to forget, this is our second woman PM. In this country we promote on merit and we treat our women with respect. Unfortunately the occasional blips get blown up out of all proportion.

I do not believe I mentioned PM's or politics in my response?

Thanks (0)
Replying to JasonRodwell:
avatar
By johnjenkins
09th Mar 2018 11:02

No but you stated that we need to reach a point where there is equality. If having a woman PM twice is not equality then I'll go to the bottom of our garden.

Thanks (1)
Replying to johnjenkins:
By coops456
09th Mar 2018 14:09

No, having 2 female Prime Ministers out of 75 isn't anything like equality.

There is still a massive gender pay gap, and women are still not being paid the same as men for work of equal value. Women are under-represented in senior roles across all industries.

Women are discriminated against when it comes to their career paths and access to jobs. Men are discriminated against their private lives and put under huge pressure to focus on their career and making money. It's harder for a man to be accepted as a nursery school teacher than a woman to be accepted as an engineer.

Gender inequality hurts us all. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/men-fighting-gender-eqaulity_uk_58...

Thanks (0)
Replying to coops456:
avatar
By JasonRodwell
09th Mar 2018 14:26

coops456 wrote:

No, having 2 female Prime Ministers out of 75 isn't anything like equality.

There is still a massive gender pay gap, and women are still not being paid the same as men for work of equal value. Women are under-represented in senior roles across all industries.

Women are discriminated against when it comes to their career paths and access to jobs. Men are discriminated against their private lives and put under huge pressure to focus on their career and making money. It's harder for a man to be accepted as a nursery school teacher than a woman to be accepted as an engineer.

Gender inequality hurts us all. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/men-fighting-gender-eqaulity_uk_58...

And I agree with you.

Aren't we basically trying to say though that there are issues on both sides?

At the moment, we're focussing on the huge obstacles that women have to face to be represented and heard in the workplace and in general life. These obstacles should never need to exist for them and I can never understand why they are there in the first place.

The issues men face are valid, but is not the point of this article.

Thanks (0)
Replying to coops456:
avatar
By johnjenkins
09th Mar 2018 14:59

No but 2 out of the last 4 elected isn't bad. (I don't count GB or NC as they weren't elected). Let's get one thing straight. Men and women are different in many ways so they can't be equal. If you're talking about working a till on Tesco's or Asda then yes, but management or even Accountancy there can be wide differences in approach.
Why use the word discriminate to explain differences?
I've worked with many men and women and there is certainly differences that manifest themselves. I wonder if male prostitutes can command just as good an income as women prostitutes?

Thanks (3)
Replying to coops456:
avatar
By Rammstein1
09th Mar 2018 15:11

'No, having 2 female Prime Ministers out of 75 isn't anything like equality.'

You can't backdate equality! Are you seriously saying that the next 73 Prime Ministers should be female or would you prefer them to be elected on their own merits. We all want equality but that is not what you are suggesting here.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By thomas34
09th Mar 2018 10:25

Agree and I may even fill the dishwasher today.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By rememberscarborough
09th Mar 2018 10:40

Is crying good for business or for that matter is shouting? For me these extremes of emotion are incredibly disruptive for the whole team and shows that something has broken down in the communication within the team.

No, crying shouldn't be praised and neither should shouting so ask yourself whether your tears are for your team or for you....

Thanks (0)
avatar
By dgilmour51
09th Mar 2018 11:44

I get perturbed by the notion that 'equality' = 'same'.

For myself, equality means only equality of opportunity - thereafter its about 'merit'.
There's a well understood tipping-point of 10,000 [approximately contiguous] hours of training needed to reach consultant status in pretty much anything - surgeons, lathe operators, you name it. And even with that time-serving many people are just not up to it.
But if they are then these are a resource to be exploited.

The propensity to indulge in the psychoemotional shedding of tears is a perfectly natural response to various stresses - including emotion. Its up to each individual to handle their stresses and whether they elect to do this in public or not is entirely their business.

Thanks (2)
avatar
By Diverse Synergy
14th Mar 2018 06:50

hahahaha - "before I get accused of gender bias... currently we have about a 67/33 female/male staffing ratio"

Now I don't know if most of your staff are full time or not, but assuming they are then only 38% of the full time UK workforce are women versus 62% of men (source: ONS).

So, I'd say the gender bias in your employment rates of men versus women was HEAVILY biased against men. What you need to work out is whether it is deliberate or subconscious on your part, and that of your fellow management team. Either way, it is clearly discriminatory.

And the reasons why no-one else on the comments thread will point this blindingly obvious fact out:

1) They have such a contorted view of discrimination, thanks to the ongoing bias in the press, that they genuinely don't see the blindingly obvious.

2) They do see it, but are too scared to point it out in a society increasingly focussed on silencing views that are not mainstream with the threat of economic and social sanctions (losing job, losing reputation, losing friends) if you dare not go along with the current vogue.

3) You are protected from such comments, precisely because you are a women. I wager people are less likely to criticise you as they would a man in your position. Personally I think that is wrong, and you can disagree with me all you like - but the comments in this thread speak for themselves. Not one other person yet has called you on it.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Diverse Synergy:
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Mar 2018 09:12

There is nothing wrong with a company having more women or more men or all women or all men.
The problem is when you start saying "there has to be a proportion of women or ethnic minorities" it throws the status quo out of sync.
Market forces will always determine the outcome, however if you starting messing about with the natural development, then be prepared for a rough ride.

Thanks (0)
Replying to johnjenkins:
avatar
By Diverse Synergy
14th Mar 2018 14:02

No indeed, the proportions will never be *exactly* reflective - but when you have a disparity of the percentage proportions I have highlighted, then you cannot put this down to mere statistical margin of error. The percentages I highlight suggest a significant override against expected statistical norms, to the extent that there is clearly either deliberate or subconscious bias at play at this firm. I am the only one to call them on it; most people will remain oblivious, a few other will choose to ignore it as this is safest in the current political climate.

In general, I agree with you that focussing expected proportionality is ridiculous if you *only* look at underlying population as a whole. For instance, if more women choose to put their career on hold for a length of time (eg to bring up children) compared with men, as the statistics clearly show is the case, then there will be more men working full time and getting paid more than women - on average that is, if you look at the entire population. Not all women choose to do this of course, but it is a simple fact that more women do CHOOSE to do this. Equality is about freedom of choice after all, not equality of statistical outcomes compared to blunt underlying population data and ignoring all other factors.

The most ardent feminists will tell you that those women aren’t really choosing to put their career on hold for themselves, but that it is the bogeyman “patriarchal” society which impresses this upon them. I personally think that men and women are wired differently when it comes to sacrificing for progeny, and it is the ardent feminists who are the ones actually putting any kind of pressure on women to conform to THEIR stance. But you could argue about this all day – I’ll leave the rational majority to form their own opinion about which stance more closely reflects reality.

Hence the whole "gender pay gap" myth - of course ON AVERAGE men will earn more than women, because on AVERAGE men have more years of work experience than women (having, on AVERAGE, put their careers on hold for less time), and on AVERAGE more men choose to do more dangerous and social unpleasant jobs than women – which due to simple supply and demand economics (not the patriarchy) garners a higher salary on AVERAGE.

The thing to focus on is not broad brush underlying population statistics, but very specifically focussing on men and women doing the same job with the same level of work experience in the same business sector, in the same geographical location. And even then there might still be room for non-biased disparity of salary in a true meritocracy - say on AVERAGE more men are pushier during annual reviews to press the case for higher wage increases than women, then even men and women doing the same job might have a wage disparity - and rightly so. If one employee has pushed and made a case for higher salary than another employee, that is purely meritorious and non-biased.

Note, that you will have never heard this argument before in the mainstream media – because I have formulated it along the lines of LOGIC. You will only have heard the argument of emotion, and that of cherry-picking blanket statistics to support a narrative that happens to be in vogue at the moment. Now, I don't doubt that the rare misogynistic employer deliberately pays women less than men. They should be highlighted and reprimanded under the law. But I would wager the actual cases of gender pay-gap, gender bias in selecting employment candidates are such a minute percentage as to be negligible, compared with the amount the focus the media (and now it seems even professional journals and websites such as this one) chooses to place on this non-story.

Then you get people like Justin Trudeau in Canada, who selects a cabinet of 50/50 men and women to appear all trendy. When only 22% of the elected officials were women. Now do you suppose he is a believer in meritocracy, and getting the right people into the right positions based on skills and experience? Or do you suppose he is shamelessly pandering to this total baloney of a narrative?

Even if I am the only one left in the West who will call out the Emperor as wearing no clothes - then they can lock me up, they can fine me, they can assassinate my character on social media. But I will keep pointing out that the Emperor is wearing NO CLOTHES.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Diverse Synergy:
avatar
By johnjenkins
14th Mar 2018 14:32

Let's take it a stage further.
I don't think there is anything wrong with bias. It's natural and you start messing about with natural at your own peril.
Hen doos, stag doos. Men only sports teams, women only sports teams, separate toilet facilities. That is bias. etc etc.

Thanks (0)