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Vodafone Finance Chief Margherita Della Valle: “I Want To See More Female CFOs” – Forbes

Women enter the finance and accountancy profession in almost equal numbers to men. Yet they remain significantly underrepresented at the profession’s highest levels. According to The Female FTSE Board Report 2021, produced by Cranfield School of Management, there are just 15 female CFOs or finance directors in the FTSE 100 companies.

The lack of women at the most senior levels of the profession is an issue that Margherita Della Valle, CFO at Vodafone Group, is determined to address. She’s so determined, in fact, that she’s launched an initiative called NXT GEN Women in Finance, with other European CFOs. This group of CFOs has started identifying, mentoring and promoting female rising stars in finance. The aim is to help them rise to the very top of their profession while supporting other women to progress.

In this Q&A, Della Valle discusses the barriers that are currently preventing women in finance from reaching their potential and explains how mentoring will help.

Sally Percy: Which barriers are stopping women from reaching the top of the finance profession today?

Margherita Della Valle: I think there are the same types of obstacles and challenges in finance, as in other functions within an organization. A fundamental obstacle is what people call ‘subconscious bias’. The definition of leadership, and the leadership attributes that people are looking for, are still very much male-dominated in nature. This colors daily interactions and promotions and also women’s own engagement when pushing their careers. Sometimes you see women just disconnecting from the game, because it’s not the game they want to play.

Percy: How can we help more women in finance to succeed?

Della Valle: The solution to this problem is going to be more women in leadership roles and diversity at every level. That’s the real game-changer we all need to push for. For example, a couple of years ago I witnessed a training session on how women should behave in interviews if they want to be successful. In my opinion, it’s not the women who need to change to be successful in interviews. It’s the interviewers who need to change and the nature of the interviews needs to be different. A lot of the advice that women get in terms of selling their competencies and looking confident might be different if the interviewers themselves were women. I believe personally that I interview differently from men.

Percy: How would organisations benefit from having more women in senior finance roles?

Della Valle: The case has been made many times for diversity. When you have diversity of thinking around the table, you end up taking better decisions for the customers and for the company. Of course, this doesn’t apply just to gender diversity either. One of the reasons why I enjoy working for Vodafone is the cultural diversity that we have. Maybe one reason why businesses with greater diversity get better results is that people are more open in how they seek talent. These businesses get access to a broader range of talent and therefore a richer employee base.

Percy: Do you think that investors are more likely to trust a female CFO above a male CFO?

Della Valle: I do not think trust is an issue, but we certainly need more women investors. The worlds of banking and investment are still mostly male-dominated. I think diversity is important in every environment.

Percy: Why did you decide to launch NXT GEN Women in Finance with other CFOs?

Della Valle: I wanted to see more women becoming our successors in CFO positions across Europe. So, I created a network with some of the very few women who were already CFOs across the major European indexes – the FTSE 100 in the UK, the CAC 40 in France and DAX in Germany. We have been scanning Europe for the great female talent that is already in finance, but at different levels within organisations. Having identified this top talent, we have selected the first group of eight women who are “next-generation CFO potential” and we will mentor them individually over the coming 12 months.

Percy: What do you hope that NXT GEN Women in Finance will achieve through the mentoring programme?

Della Valle: The idea is to create a network of support and sponsorship. We want to give the women being mentored as much visibility as we can because we want to see younger women at the very beginning of their careers understanding what’s possible. What’s important is that we’re doing this ourselves – women for women. There is no sponsor involved, no external support, no head-hunters. We’re just a group of female CFOs who want to support the next generation growing in the function.

Percy: What would be your advice to other CFOs in terms of developing the female talent within their finance teams?

Della Valle: Start very, very early. Make sure you’re working with graduates upwards. Also, focus on unconscious bias, and ensure that a diverse panel features in discussions around careers and promotions so that you look for a balance of leadership attributes.

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