The Women in Finance Survey appeared in the October 2006 Annual Conference edition of Exchange magazine.
As corporations have become multinational, it is no secret that some financial professionals have achieved a competitive advantage through assignments overseas. In our 2006 Women in Finance Survey, sponsored by Citi, AFP has learned that well over 90% of financial professionals believe treasury/finance is becoming international in scope and over 80% believe international experience is important to their careers. When jobs abroad become available, the question is: Should I stay or should I go?
For years now, AFP has heard rumblings from members who say that globalization is affecting their career in finance, but we didn't realize how widespread this was. In July 2006, AFP began surveying members about whether international experience could help them reach the higher ranks of treasury or finance, with surprising results.
Over a two-week period, questions were pushed out to members via AFP's various media outlets in order to achieve a statistically relevant sample, before the data were interpreted by AFP's Research Group. To encourage responses from both men and women, there was no indication that this was a Women in Finance survey. Responses came from corporate practitioners in a wide range of industries, with titles up to CFO and treasurer, and with an average of 15 years in the profession.
Hypothesis and results
Our initial hypothesis was that international experience certainly was likely to be helpful and that assignments overseas might be more readily accepted by men than by women. What we found was that almost everyone who responded, both women and men, said that the function was becoming international. Interestingly, for women this belief was close to 100%. Asked about associated impacts, responses varied.
Many financial professionals also indicated that international experience was not only helpful, but that it had become important or very important to advancing their careers.
Factors they thought their employer would look for, or which they themselves deemed important included:
- Previous international experience
- Perceived ability to "fit in" with another culture
- Ability to serve as an "ambassador" for my company, enhance the company's reputation
- Negotiation experience
- Proven ability to achieve results in current job
- Flexibility (this was specifically cited by several respondents)
- Professional development, education (e.g. languages)
A senior-level financial professional said that what was needed was "a level of competency to understand global economic issues and their effects on currencies of countries where multinational companies carry on business. The successful finance professional must be able to understand and anticipate these trends and then navigate their organization around them to mitigate risk."
Another saw related knowledge as important: "Many of the international treasury tasks have a tax-related angle to them. While not expected to be a tax expert, I believe the international treasury professional needs a working knowledge of the major tax rules that apply to movement of cash across borders and capitalizing subsidiaries abroad. Clearly the international treasurer will need to engage his international tax associates for specific transactions."
Not surprisingly, risk was also cited: "Global risk impact. Ability to mitigate those risks. Ability to understand how global risks affect your business at home. Can you help expand business overseas and understand the convergence of domestic and international risks and how they will impact businesses? Can you anticipate how change will interact with opportunity?"
Not accepting jobs
Many of the respondents went on to indicate that although they recognized the advantages of international experience, they were unlikely to accept jobs abroad if offered; in other words, despite the obvious benefits, they would self-select out of the international career path. Although males were somewhat more likely to accept jobs abroad in the next 12 months, 55% vs. 30.9% for females, many also indicated that they would not accept jobs abroad in the near term, mainly for family reasons.
Overall, the number one factor that would cause respondents not to accept a treasury/finance job abroad would be family considerations. A full 96% of females surveyed found this to be the top consideration, vs. 78% for men. And a full 100% of females who said they would be unlikely to accept or would definitely not accept said that this would be due to family reasons.
"Young single and childless people are ideal candidates," one woman said. "They have not been in the corporate world for long so they have no preconceived ideas of how to do things. They are much more flexible in all aspects of their lives. They won't have to end it early because of an unhappy spouse or children, and their parents aren't old enough yet to have to worry about caring for them."
The implications here are significant. Treasury/finance is becoming more international. International experience is helpful to career advancement. But more women than men may self-select out of international jobs if offered them in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, male respondents were slightly more concerned with inadequate compensation in accepting international treasury/finance positions, 73% vs. 71% for females. One respondent said that expat jobs are simply not as financially rewarding now as they once were. Ideally an employer would offer a salary and benefits package that ensures the employee is not harmed financially by accepting the assignment.
To a lesser extent, both men and women cited cultural considerations, lack of previous international experience and insufficient knowledge of international financial issues as factors.
International roles without travel
About 16% of women thought they were likely or very likely to work abroad for a U.S. organization, compared to 20.4% for men. A lesser percentage, 10.6% of women compared to 18.6% of men, thought they were likely or very likely to work abroad for a non-U.S. organization.
Many thought they would play an international role with their current organization. A significant number of both men and women envisioned taking on major responsibility of their current organization's international treasury/finance operations without traveling abroad, about 40% of men compared to 50% of women.