Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Resilient Leadership, Redefined For Women In Business

Written by: Christine NielsenForbes Councils Member

Christine Nielsen is the CEO and founder of Contrast Results Group, propelled by your growth, leadership and results.

Every year, McKinsey and LeanIn release an annual report on Women in the Workplace, and the current 2020 data was right on target for how women make a difference in all workplace environments. However, the impact on women in these organized and established settings — and female entrepreneurs whose work has been challenged with the pandemic — has highlighted the uphill climb that women have faced for several generations and continue to do so. The most significant research has been on mental health issues being a foremost factor in overall wellness.

The negative economic influence for women in organizations, as well as small businesses, is going to be staggering. Couple that with the impact each sector will have on a woman’s mental stability, and there’s no question we are facing a global crisis of epic proportions. Burnout, overwhelm, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep — these are just some of the milder symptoms we are seeing.

What are the current negatives for women?

The results will show up in the lives of women trying to hold it all together. Throughout their busyness, more women are likely to experience high levels of stress and mental fatigue, alongside financial insecurity, perhaps more than in any other time in history. The pressures for top-notch performance; the feeling of always being "on;" managing children and homeschooling, and the physical and mental health tolls this will take; and, more often than not, finding themselves in the “sandwich generation,” where they are taking care of their own families as well as an aging parent, are at record highs.

Add to that the extra burden of shame or guilt many women feel because — well, let’s face it — we “should” be able to accomplish all of the above with our hair done and a smile on our faces. The internal pressures of having an unproductive day because we women are juggling so many things are exacerbated by being in cultures where “no excuses” and “accountability” or “performance-driven results” are the flavor of the year. Women often feel like they are failing at everything and can’t keep pace with their male counterparts.

Let’s shift the paradigm.

Why are we talking about being resilient in business? It’s time to change the paradigm and shift the model.

What is resilience exactly? How do we know if we are resilient? Simply put, resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties or toughness. For its performance elasticity, the question remains — how well do you bounce? How well do you recover? Even the definition of resilience uses language like tenacity, which creates a certain pressure to be mentally and physically firm while emotionally steadfast.

Instead, what if resilience is simply your ability to move through challenges at a pace that works for you, and that your performance elasticity became your ability to let go of things that don’t serve you in your business or home life? Being a superhero on the outside and falling apart on the inside isn’t resilience.

Becoming resilient incorporates the necessary vulnerabilities and the willingness to ask for help and acquire resources that support you in your business and assist in managing your life. The impact on women without children who are also squeezed into this box of unrealistic expectations is also staggering.

The guilt and shame that accompany high demands happen in the workplace and basically everywhere. High levels of stress, the feeling of being overburdened and the expectations to perform are under the microscope in a time when so many women are feeling disconnected, inundated with daily responsibilities and completely overwhelmed — emotionally, physically and mentally.

How about vulnerability?

Senior-level executive — as well as entrepreneurial — women are coming to a point where being powerful and resilient needs to be redefined. Being vulnerable with colleagues, while also being willing to manage our energy levels, is equally as important as matching our performance indicators and results.

The internal and external pressures we put on ourselves as resilient and strong role models are outdated and could use a dose of upgrade.

The Bottom Line

What can you do about it? These are not answers, because quite frankly, no one has the answers to all of the challenges that women face. These are merely suggestions for people who are being affected by this crisis. Whether you are in a leadership position or running your own business from start to stop, turn it off.

You will only accomplish in one day what there is facing you in a day’s work. The first step is to take care of yourself. Creating mental clarity and focus demands a healthy you, which means proper rest, carved out time for a reset and reboot, daily meditation, a brisk walk or anything else that clears the mental clutter.

Get rid of the notion of “shoulds.” This word imposes a false set of expectations for yourself and others that are not based in fact and rarely give you access to changing the situation or circumstances.

Combine resources with friends, family and neighbors for group learning experiences. Create learning pods for those with children and share these resources to help reduce financial pressures on families. Ask for help, and offer help.

Finally — as simple as it seems, cooking and cleaning after meals until the wee hours of the morning, then having to get up at the crack of dawn to run your business or be on an international video call meeting is a recipe for disaster. Use meal services, get high-quality food delivered and, wherever possible, outsource as many of these things as you safely can.

It’s worthy to note that men are also very much affected by the same things on a daily basis. They continue to strive to understand the pressures while offering up their own grievances. It’s an ongoing balancing act for men who also have their own personal pressures during this globally challenging time.

The bottom line in a nutshell is to listen, to be aware, to show empathy and compassion and to gradually find footing that will get us all over this 2020 hump of obstacles.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

How to Finance an Acquisition Using an SBA Loan


If you want to buy another business, don't let a lack of capital hold you back.

If you want to buy another business, don’t let a lack of capital hold you back. You’re unlikely to land on that killer idea the first time, so serial entrepreneurship is your best chance of success. When you spot a business for sale that would thrive under your leadership, but your funds are tied up in your current company, consider an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan to finance the acquisition.

Hang on – what’s the SBA?

The SBA is a federal agency that helps small businesses get loans. I doesn't issue loans itself, but it works with lenders to overcome obstacles to business lending, such as guaranteeing loans, reducing risk and sourcing capital. On a deeper level, the SBA funds, licenses and regulates investment funds that in turn lend to small businesses.

Because the SBA helps foster competition and diversity in the U.S. economy, getting an SBA loan to finance an acquisition is relatively simple. Importantly, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been declined credit before or have a poor credit history. You might still qualify for a loan with the SBA. That said, it does have certain eligibility requirements, including:
  • Your business must trade in the U.S.
  • You must have invested in the business yourself.
  • You must be a for-profit business.
  • You must have tried but been unable to source funding from traditional lenders.
Why finance an acquisition with the SBA?

Better rates

When you’ve run out of other options, the SBA can save a potential acquisition deal. But that’s not all. SBA loans are also competitively priced (under 8 percent). As a federal agency, the SBA enforces responsible lending and risk management so lenders can afford to charge lower rates and fees. You’re arguably less exposed to predatory practices when you borrow from the SBA than from subprime business lenders. Terms vary from seven to 25 years, giving ample time to repay at an affordable monthly premium.

Better terms

Because the SBA guarantees up to 85 percent of the loan, there’s less pressure on you and your current business to shoulder all the risk. You’ll rarely pay more than a 10 percent down payment, and if you’re borrowing less than $350,000, you won’t always need collateral. That said, you will need to sign a personal guarantee to repay the loan in full.

Help and support

The SBA can be a helpful sidekick during the acquisition process, too. You might hit a wall of due diligence and legal wrangling, which can deter even the staunchest entrepreneurs from moving forward. The SBA has a vested interest in your success here and can support you right until you sign the purchase agreement with counseling and learning resources.
How to get an SBA loan to finance an acquisition

The general-use 7(a) loan is the SBA’s most popular, and it's ideal as acquisition finance. You can borrow up to $5 million which is more than enough for acquisitions of small or even medium-sized businesses. You can only borrow what you can afford to repay, however, which an SBA-approved lender will determine when you apply.

To begin applying for an SBA loan, you first need a list of SBA-approved lenders in your area. Head to the SBA website, fill in some basic details and its matching tool will produce a list of suitable lenders. Do remember this isn’t an application, and those in the list won’t necessarily give you a loan.

Next step is to apply, the specifics of which will vary from lender to lender. But be prepared to hand over or have scrutinized the following information:

The amount of money you want to borrow and its purpose.
  • A business plan. Because you’re acquiring a new business, this should include post-acquisition plans and why it’s the right acquisition for you.
  • Your financials. The lenders will want evidence you’re capable of repaying the loan. Expect to hand over tax filings, balance sheets, P&L statements and more.
  • Your experience. They’ll want to see your industry expertise in both your current business and the one you’re about to buy should it be in a different sector.
  • Your credit history. Again, don’t stress if your record has a few hiccups. The SBA underwrites a portion of loans and therefore can accept some poor credit applications.
  • Collateral. How will you collateralize the loan? Will it be stock, property or other assets? Depending on the lender, you might be able to choose what’s off and on the table collateral-wise.

The SBA and the lender will assess your application and return with a decision.

Some things to remember

Plan early as getting an SBA loan takes time

If you’ve already found a business you like, apply for the SBA loan now. As you might know, dealing with federal agencies is a long and bureaucratic process. It might be a few weeks before you receive a decision and perhaps a week or two more to receive funds. Get the ball rolling as soon as possible so you don’t lose out to another buyer.

7(a) interest rates are variable

The 7(a) SBA loan type is a variable base rate plus a markup negotiated with your lender. When this base rate changes, the rate on your loan changes, so be prepared for paying a bit more or less each month over the term of the loan.

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

You need to negotiate fees, repayments, collateral, interest and so on with the lender. The SBA limits what the lender can charge, but rest assured the lender will seek the best outcome for itself. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms – especially if you’re in a position of strength such as having a good credit rating.

SBA loans are one of the best forms of credit available. The interest rates are low, and the repayment terms are fair. If you already own a business and are eyeing up another, don’t fret if you don’t have the capital to finance the acquisition. The SBA can help you seal the deal.

The 10 biggest challenges businesses face today (and need consultants for)

Written by : Anonymous (not verified)

If you’re one of the many business owners spinning numerous plates and tackling everything that needs doing single-handed, or indeed if you’re a consultant helping said business owners in areas outside their expertise, how does this top 10 list resonate with you?

We live in rapidly changing times, especially for businesses. Consider that, in a single generation, businesses have had to adapt to entirely new marketing channels (web and social), decide how to invest in and utilise new technologies, and compete on a global stage — things that were barely imaginable to our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

One side effect of these rapid changes and growth is that no single CEO — or any employee, for that matter — can be an expert in everything. This was, perhaps, always true, but it has never been more apparent.

This is why, in my opinion, some of the biggest challenges businesses face today are best met and addressed with qualified consultants. Bringing on a consultant helps CEOs add the expertise and skills they need to address particular problems at particular times and can provide the best possible outcomes.

Just a few of the challenges I see businesses facing that are best addressed with the help of a consultant include:

Uncertainty about the future

Being able to predict customer trends, market trends etc. is vital to a changing economic climate, but not every CEO has Warren Buffett-like predictive powers. Bringing in a consultant trained in reading and predicting those all-important trends could be the difference between a bright future and a murky one.

Financial management

Many CEOs I know are ideas people; that means they’re great at the big picture and disruptive thinking, but less good with things like cash flow, profit margins, reducing costs, financing, etc. Small and medium businesses may not require a full-time CFO but would do better to employ a financial consultant who can step into the role as needed.
Monitoring performance

Using a meaningful set of rounded performance indicators that provide the business with insights about how well it is performing is key. Most business people I know are not experts in how to develop KPIs, how to avoid the key pitfalls and how to best communicate metrics so that they inform decision-making. In most cases, companies rely on overly simple finance indicators that just clog up the corporate reporting channels.

Regulation and compliance

As markets and technologies shift, so do rules and regulations. Depending on your industry, it can make much more sense to bring in a consultant to help with these areas rather than trying to understand the complexities yourself — and risk fines or worse for non-compliance.

Competencies and recruiting the right talent

Again, a small or medium-sized business might not need full-time human resources or recruiting staff, but during peak growth periods, finding the right people and developing the right skills and competencies is the key to a sustainable future. Bringing in a consultant with the expertise to find exactly the workers you need would be a wise investment.


As technologies change practically at the speed of light, companies need to innovate or be left behind — but many CEOs started their careers and businesses before many of these technologies even existed! Consultants can be vital for integrating new technologies, in particular mobile, app development, and cloud computing.

Exploding data

Grandpa’s generation certainly didn’t have to deal with terabytes of data or worry about what to do with it. 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years and managing, keeping safe and extracting insights from the ever-increasing amounts of data your company produces needs to be in the hands of a qualified professional who can help you get the most return from that data.

Customer service

In a world of instant gratification, customers expect instant customer service — and can take to the web to share their displeasure at less than satisfactory service just as quickly. Consultants can find ways to improve customer service and bring it into the 21st century.

Maintaining reputation

In a similar vein, because customers can voice any displeasure so much more publicly and loudly than ever before, businesses have to monitor and maintain their online reputations. And while it’s an important task, it’s one best suited to a third party who can monitor and mediate with a certain amount of distance.

Knowing when to embrace change

Early adopter or late to the game? Consultants can help CEOs determine when to embrace change and when to stay the course. Not everything new is better, yet eschewing every change runs the risk of becoming obsolete. A professional outside opinion can make all the difference in these decisions.

We are living in an era of constant change for the foreseeable future: change is the new normal. Preparing for and embracing that change by investing in the right kind of advice is the best way to meet these challenges head-on.

Scared about the future': Female small-business owners face extra hurdles during pandemic shutdowns

 Written by: Amee Picchi 


Melissa Wirt owns Latched Mama, an online clothing retailer geared to nursing moms based in Midlothian, Va. She has five kids

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Lenore Estrada was in the middle of constructing a kitchen for her bakery, buoyed by demand from Google and Lyft, which served her desserts in their cafeterias.

When she learned her clients were shuttering their offices – and cutting their food orders – she made the painful decision to lay off most of her staff.

Estrada said she worked many all-nighters to keep her Three Babes Bakeshop afloat, even as she prepared to have her second child in October.

She’s juggling parenting a newborn and a 2-year-old and keeping her business alive.

“I sometimes get down, and I feel really scared about the future,” Estrada, 37, of San Francisco, told USA TODAY, noting that she worries about filing for bankruptcy. “I have had many a tearful day. I don’t have (any) choice but to press forward.”

The pandemic has been tough on women’s careers. Mothers are stretched thin between work and the strain of child care as the majority of large school districts reopened with remote instruction this fall.

Women who run small businesses face a unique set of stressors as the pandemic threatens the viability of their companies, as well as the nation’s economic growth, experts said.

Women hit harder by coronavirus

Women are more likely than men to own businesses in industries that have been hard-hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants and retail shops. Women and people of color are less likely to have the same access to capital as white men. A House committee report found the Paycheck Protection Program left behind many minority- and women-owned businesses because banks prioritized lending to customers.

Women-owned businesses have been a driving force in the economy’s growth. About 42% of businesses were owned by women in 2019, compared with about 4% in 1972, according to American Express’ State of Women-Owned Business report in 2019. In the past five years, total employment by women-owned businesses rose 8%, versus an increase of 1.8% for all businesses, the report found.

“Women are disproportionately owners of foot-traffic-based companies,” such as salons, spas and retail establishments, said Sarah Gustafson, lead data scientist at Gusto, a company that provides payroll and benefit services to small businesses. “What we saw is that female-owned businesses have had larger net losses in their headcounts than male-owned businesses.”

COVID-19 forces women-owned businesses to cut more jobs

Women-owned businesses cut more workers in April – at the height of the pandemic lockdowns – than male-owned businesses, Gusto’s analysis found. From March through September, male-owned businesses had more than double the headcount recovery compared with those owned by women, Gusto said.

Women-owned businesses are less optimistic about the future, according to a study in August from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It found 36% of male-owned businesses plan to increase staffing in the coming year; 24% of female-owned businesses expect to do so.

“That really points to the prolonged negative impact the pandemic can put on women,” says Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the Chamber of Commerce.

That lack of optimism among women business owners is “a very real thing,” said Melissa Wirt, owner of Latched Mama, an online clothing retailer geared to nursing moms based in Midlothian, Virginia. “There are great partners and great men who support their entrepreneurial wives, but at the end of the day, there is so much extra weight on women’s shoulders that can’t even be measured.”

No relief check

The next few months could pose new threats for businesses if coronavirus cases continue to set records and congressional relief negotiations fail to produce a new aid package, experts and business owners said.

“Without stimulus or some sort of relief, there is a strong expectation in the next couple of months that things will turn worse,” says Daniel Sternberg, head of data science at Gusto.

Doughp (pronounced “Dope”), a cookie dough company started in 2017 by Kelsey Moreira, had more than 20 employees before the pandemic. Most of its revenue came from its location on the Las Vegas Strip.

Moriera, 29, said she noticed foot traffic falling in January as large businesses postponed conventions because of the spread of the coronavirus.

Her retail location is shuttered, and her employee count is down to two: herself and her husband.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” she said, focusing on pivoting to an online business. “Embracing change is so important.”

New strategies are a familiar theme for the women business owners who spoke with USA TODAY. Estrada started online piemaking classes geared to corporations that want to provide their at-home workers with a bonding experience.

Because 95% of her employees are mothers, Wirt – herself the mother of five children – said she focused on supporting her staff. That included adding a remote learning center to their offices, where employees’ children could attend remote school while their parents worked.

PPP loan helps small business pivot

Wirt faced another challenge when flights stopped arriving from China, where her clothing is produced. She switched to sea freight, which has longer delivery times. A PPP loan helped her company fund the first boat shipment, and she hasn’t cut any of her employees, she said.

“It’s forced us to be more disciplined and forced us to act ahead,” she said. The upside: higher margins, given that sea freight delivery is cheaper than air freight.

Wirt, who said the PPP funds are long gone, said she worries about the future even though her business is going strong.

“I don't have backers or people who are ready to throw money at me if we get into trouble,” Wirt said. “We are only one devastating event away from disaster.”

Monday, November 2, 2020

Readers share their most pressing questions and concerns about the future of work in post-Covid societies.


Written by: By Bryan Lufkin and Rachel Mishael

It’s been nearly a year since the novel coronavirus began spreading around the world. While we’ve learned a lot about Covid-19 since January – and how to live and work in lockdown – there’s still much we don’t know about how the pandemic will change our societies.

That’s why we’ve rolled out Unknown Questions, our series grappling with these seismic changes by asking leaders and experts across the globe for their input. But today, we’ve turned to you, our LinkedIn readers, for your views on the biggest unknowns about the post-pandemic future.

The future of work

“My biggest question: Why can’t we work from home forever?” asks Kathy L from Virginia. With many workers asking the same thing, several big companies have already answered: “Why not?” Just this month, tech giant Microsoft announced that it would offer staff the option to work from home permanently, just as other Silicon Valley mainstays Facebook and Twitter, as well as Japan’s Fujitsu, did earlier this year.

Shun-ping Chiu in California points out that while remote work was technically possible before the pandemic, what Covid-19 has brought “is a mindset difference that allows people to view remote work as a new normal rather than an occasional opportunity”. And data backs this up: In April, the Office of National Statistics reported that 46% of employed Brits were working from home; in May, 42% of the US workforce were doing the same.

The pandemic has had profound impacts on how we work, and many of us feel that some of the changes are irreversible

“Most of the client meetings, kick-offs, project meetings could easily and effectively be conducted via tools like Teams, WebEx, Zoom and other virtual meeting solutions,” says Gagan Lamba in San Francisco. “Soon enough corporations will recognise the benefit of people working from home, which would result in savings on lease cost, electric bills, shipment cost, administrative cost.”

But some fear losing vital communication skills, or wonder whether they will be as effective or successful professionally as they would be at an office. “I fear we will forget how to communicate, which in my field as a salesperson makes me very nervous,” says Ben Brown from England. “Face-to-face interaction is vital in order to win new business and build a relationship with the customer where they can trust you.”

On the flip side, telework could potentially open up more opportunities. “Everyone who has talent and skills will learn that they can market their talent to the whole world,” says Juliana Carroll in New York. “Everyone who takes their everyday skills for granted will realise that someone will pay for that skill and/or for their time. Every responsible college student will realise that someone will pay for their time to help with children's homework. Every bilingual person will realise that someone will pay for their time to practice another language… It's just a matter of finding the right virtual marketplace.”

But others worry about possible drawbacks to long-term remote working. “On the flip side, it opens up unanswered questions: What is my career growth path? How do I collaborate on new ideas? How do I build a trusted relationship with a customer? How do I engage my team? Is this fair to people with small kids? What are the implications on taxes?” asks Pankaj Goyal, also in San Francisco.

And where does all this leave office buildings? In May, office and retail landlord Land Securities reported that a mere 10% of its office space in the UK was in use. Meanwhile, real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield forecasts that Covid’s hit on the office real estate market will be worse than the global financial crisis, with a net loss of 95 million square feet of real estate in the next year – and that the market might not get back to pre-Covid levels until 2025.

“How is commercial real estate adapting to the post-Covid world?” asks Lisa Hoffman from Virginia. “Is there a shift away from typical tenants to a different tenant or a new space use? How will these changes impact the urban environment, especially downtown hubs that rely on dense office real estate?”

Plus, with the meteoric rise of telework, some are wondering if people will soon be paid based on where they live. One survey this summer of high earners in New York City revealed that 44% of them had thought of moving in the last four months to telework somewhere cheaper to live.

Eric Luna in New York says: “People would do the exact same job but be paid differently because of their home or residential location. Some say this will happen. I personally believe something like it will. Is this avoidable or inevitable?”

Of course, some offices will stay put in their current spot – after all, research in July from Gensler, an architecture firm in San Francisco, found that only 12% of workers want to work from home permanently. “I do not believe that we will find a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Thibault Pelloux-Gervais in California. “I am still convinced that in-person activity is essential to build team spirit, which drives collaboration and innovation. A hybrid model where you would spend some time working from home and some time from an office could become a very common model.”
As the way we work has shifted, so too have the ways we navigate family life and how our children learn

Childcare, coping and inequality

Yet if hybrid does become more common and employers give workers more flexibility, what does it mean for parents whose children are at home doing distance learning? After all, in the US, a whopping 93% of households with school-age children reported having to accommodate distance learning at home during the pandemic. Globally, 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. Tracey Stewart from Seattle asks: “Will working from home remain a viable solution? Will employers note increases in productivity and cost savings, and offer real flexibility for working parents? Will governments and corporations, post-Covid, offer childcare solutions like generous subsidies or onsite solutions in order to maximise workforce engagement? Many parents are simultaneously loving the flexibility of working from home, but also buckling under the burden of full-time teaching or parenting.”

In this sphere, like many others in the pandemic, inequalities have been laid bare; while 95% of students in countries like Switzerland and Austria have a computer to do schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do. “From their academic success to their social skills and mental health, the pandemic is a crisis for today’s children – and the fallout may follow them for the rest of their lives,” says Isabel Santos in Portugal. “When today’s children and adolescents grow up, will they see themselves as a ‘lost generation’, whose lives will forever fall in the shadow of a global pandemic?”

When it comes to Covid-19’s emotional impact, readers aren’t just worried about Zoom fatigue or WiFi blips during video calls. Furloughs, redundancies and slashed pay all threaten livelihoods, with a major impact on mental health. Julie Derrick in Cardiff, Wales, says: “My biggest question (and concern) is how on Earth are we going to cope with the surge in mental health cases, in particular OCD, post-Covid – when mental health resources were already way over-stretched (and underfunded) even pre-Covid.” In the UK, nearly 20% of adults have been experiencing some form of depression during the pandemic – a figure that had doubled since before the outbreak, according to the Office for National Statistics. “I am curious about the post-traumatic effects, how it affects personal relationships,” agrees Marcell Déri in Hungary.

And finally, with inequalities – whether socio-economic or racial - more visible than ever, one question on readers’ minds is whether our societies can change for the better as a result. “Under duress, we tend to regress,” says Dennis Linehan from Flagstaff, Arizona. “So, when we emerge from the pandemic, is humankind motivated by a common goodwill and generosity toward one another or are we generally more pessimistic and revert to a pronounced tribalism?”

Perhaps the most concrete certainty for the future is uncertainty. “I’m objectively curious to see where the waves settle and what becomes a new normal,” says Marek Matthew Getter in New York City “What interests me is what normal will look like. There’s no going back; we cannot unlearn the lessons of Covid.”

CFOs Must Embrace a Culture of Equality


Diversity among finance leaders is lacking: Only four of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. have an Asian, African American, or Black CFO.

The numbers don’t look so good: Only 11 of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. have an African American, Black, Asian, Asian American, Hispanic, or Latinx CEO. Just seven have a woman at the helm. (Latinx is a gender-neutral neologism, sometimes used to refer to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States.)

Diversity among finance leaders is similarly lacking: Only four of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. have an Asian, African American, or Black CFO, while 11 have a female CFO. There are no Hispanic Americans or Latinx representatives in the group at all. Representation of these groups is drastically lower than the broader U.S. population, and it reflects less progress made for CFOs than we see for Fortune 100 CEOs.

And the Forbes Global 100 list isn’t nearly as diverse as the real world. Sixty-three of those companies’ CFOs are Caucasian, and just 12 are female.

                                                                   Tiffany Brown

Whether it’s flat-out prejudice or unconscious bias at work, people generally expect stability and competence from a white male finance professional, and so that is who they put in charge of their organization’s money. But the finance function is rapidly transforming. CFOs are now the CEO’s right hand — and are expected to be the chief growth officer. They’re not counting beans; they’re heading up digital transformations and finding new value streams. These changes open up the possibilities of who can be a CFO, and who can be perceived as congruent with this evolved role.

Especially now that demand for social justice reform from employees, consumers, and society-at-large is stronger than ever, it’s time to create a culture of equality in the finance function. Not only to get the numbers balanced on paper but to survive and thrive as an organization. While the classic CFO might seem like a solid bet, only a steady stream of new perspectives, ideas, and connections will propel companies safely through disruption and into an increasingly unpredictable business environment.Diversity Drives Growth

It’s clear that inclusion and diversity (I&D) is a value creator for shareholders: Companies with high diversity (on measures of age, ability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, or sexual orientation, and whether or not they have diversity programs in place) have stronger profit margins and share gains. The 20 most diverse firms according to this Wall Street Journal ranking have an average operating profit margin of 12%, compared with 8% for the lowest-ranking companies.

Why might inclusion and diversity drive success in the finance function in particular? The CFO has to pull insights out of data in order to make decisions about where to take the business. Facility with math and statistics is important, of course, but a deep understanding of the market and the consumer is also needed to contextualize and extrapolate from the numbers.

Aneel Delawalla

If a finance team is made up of people with different beliefs, backgrounds, and knowledge bases, they will come to more interesting and relevant conclusions — and develop smarter strategies — than they would if they were of the same mindset as every competitor looking at similar facts and figures.

Diverse talent is critical because no company is selling to one type of individual anymore. Customers expect I&D from companies and will spend their money accordingly: Recent I&D research conducted by Accenture’s retail industry practice found that 41% of shoppers have shifted at least 10% of their business away from a retailer that does not reflect their I&D values. Each business has to get much closer to its customers by aligning with their principles, focusing on their experiences, and showing humanity. Decisions can no longer be based solely on ROI. The Nuts and Bolts

CFOs typically arrive at their position after moving up methodically within the organization. That limits the selection pool, but because companies can point to things like the diverse makeup of their board, or of management in less male-dominated fields like human resources, they can “get away” with a homogenous finance leadership team.

When it comes to gender at least, the pipeline is improving: The percentage of women in MBA programs in the U.S. has risen from 32% in 2011 to 39% in 2019. But a variety of factors seem to keep women from rising to the highest echelons in finance: They are not given high-profile assignments as often and sometimes see their ambitions derailed by family and childcare responsibilities.

Women of color, of course, face racism on top of sexism. A 2018 study found that only 13% of African American and Black female Harvard Business School graduates over the past 40 years had reached the senior-most executive ranks (whereas 40% of non-African American and Black Harvard MBA degree holders were in the executive suite).

Finance will have to take proactive measures to truly win the “war for talent.” Setting targets — and declaring them loudly and clearly — is a great way to hold people accountable and see results. Our company serves as a case in point: Accenture has a female CEO, CFO, CHRO, CMO, and CIO right now. That’s because we’ve made “getting to equal” a priority, underscored by public pronouncements, for the entire company.

Leaders who express a goal to diversify and who communicate the “why” behind their initiatives will go a long way toward creating an inclusive atmosphere — one that is good for all types of employees. Accenture research on workplace cultures of equality has shown that bold leadership is key to building an environment where everyone can be their authentic, whole selves, and thrive. Given their recently elevated roles within organizations, CFOs have a special opportunity to be those bold leaders.

We’ve noticed that a typical source of hesitancy around efforts to diversify is a false belief that it’s a zero-sum game. But companies don’t have to fire a white man for every Black woman they hire. They don’t have to lose the benefits of a 20-year veteran’s perspective; they can simply layer in other, equally valuable perspectives. Diversifying should be additive.

Raising those diversity numbers — and making your culture more inclusive — takes work. Here are 10 ways to build a finance function that is ready for the future.

Ten Recommendations
  • You get what you measure. Set quantitative and qualitative inclusion and diversity targets now and begin to measure them. Tie them to leadership compensation and promotion eligibility.
  • Leverage data and technology. For example, use AI to analyze promotion, compensation, and termination analysis to detect discrimination or unconscious bias.
  • Build the talent pipeline. Start partnering with high schools and colleges to encourage interest in finance; recruit heavily (and flexibly) when filling junior-level positions.
  • Tweak the trajectory. Let talent move across functions, or even set up rotational programs to help all employees gain skills and experience.
  • Let them stretch. Give younger talent higher-profile and more challenging assignments as a show of faith as well as an opportunity to grow.
  • Give feedback. The most common refrain we hear from our fellow professionals of color is that they are not getting the feedback they need to improve and advance in their organizations. Managers must take the time to offer constructive criticism, or they’ll risk losing top talent.
  • Expand the team. Don’t think in terms of a zero-sum game where a diverse hire replaces a non-diverse hire. Instead, think about how to create a broader circle of voices.
  • Expect — and embrace — dissension. Diversity brings more disagreement, which can make some people uncomfortable. But it’s ultimately healthy since it is a rich source of innovation. If everyone on your team is nodding along, you can bet an opportunity is getting overlooked.
  • Build personal relationships at work. Both conflict and feedback are more easily navigated among people who know and respect each other. Leaders should make an effort to build bonds with high-potential employees. Just as being diverse on paper isn’t enough to reap the benefits of various perspectives, being a sponsor in name only isn’t enough to advance worthy candidates to the top of the finance function.
  • Encourage soft networking. Informal internal events can connect talent with higher-ups who can act as connectors and perhaps even mentors and sponsors.
The bottom line? The next billion dollars of revenue or the next decade of growth for your organization is going to come from a team that can question longstanding beliefs about who should run finance and how finance should be run.

Tiffany Brown and Aneel Delawalla are Accenture strategy managing directors in the CFO & enterprise value practice.