Leadership: Women From Venus, Men From Mars

If you are a CFO and have S$30,000 – about US$24,000 – to spare, you can do worse than invest it on the F-TEN Asia Pacific Programme, an eight-month leadership course for senior finance leaders across the region.
Or if you are a senior female manager and have M$30,000 (US$9,300) lying around, you might consider attending the Women in Leadership Malaysia program, which is similar to F-TEN but is tweaked to respond to the unique challenges that women in business face.
At least that is what Sharron Gunn, Executive Director, Commercial, at ICAEW would like you to do. Both F-TEN – the acronym stands for Financial Talent Executive Network – and Women in Leadership or WIL were developed by ICAEW, a UK-based professional membership organization that supports over 142,000 chartered accountants worldwide.
The first F-TEN, organized in Singapore in September last year, is still on-going. The first WIL was launched in Kuala Lumpur in April this year and will end in November. “We’ve had a fantastic response so far,” says Gunn.
F-TEN has attracted CFOs and other senior finance professionals from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East. A second F-TEN, to start in September 2014, is now being organized in partnership with the Singapore Management University. Eighteen women managers have signed up for the Women in Leadership Malaysia program.
Gender and Leadership
It’s too early to judge the outcomes in Asia, but Gunn says both programs have “worked extremely well” in the UK. More than 100 women have graduated from WIL courses there, for example.
“We’ve had a lot of career promotions,” she reports, “and a lot of women taking on secondary roles as non-executive directors and broadening their experience. It’s had a very positive effect on their careers.”
The gender-neutral F-TEN was the leadership development program that ICAEW first developed. “It’s for men and women just below the board level,” says Gunn. But one thing became immediately clear. Many more men than women were signing up for F-TEN.
“It made me go round and talk to CEOs and CFOs and ask: ‘Where are all the women in your organization coming through in the pipeline? I’m not seeing them.’” With support from a number of organizations, ICAEW decided to develop a leadership program specifically for women in the UK.
While both F-TEN and WIL focus on a blend of workshops, peer learning groups and one-to-one mentoring sessions, Women in Leadership has an additional ingredient: building self-confidence. “What we found was that women weren’t putting themselves forward within the organization because they were lacking a bit of confidence,” says Gunn.
It was a very different situation to men, who tend to step forward even if they lack some experience or qualification, confident that they can eventually make up the deficit. Women, even if they can do 90% of the job advertised, do not even apply – they want to be able to tick every single box.
“There was more self-doubt,” says Gunn. “Some of them weren’t sure whether they wanted to get to board level and how they were going to manage their work-life balance [if they do get there]. So we adapted the program.”
Experiment in Malaysia
Like WIL in the UK, the Women in Leadership program currently ongoing in Malaysia includes the element of “getting women to recognize what they were really good at and promoting that, instead of constantly trying to look at the things they weren’t quite so good at,” explains Gunn.
The participants, most of them in finance, were sent by their respective organizations, which are picking up the M$30,000 tab. “On the whole, they are 40 and younger, and below board level,” says Gunn. “We have a mix of titles – audit partners, executive directors, tax, sales director, executive vice president.”
ICAEW’s partner is TalentCorp Malaysia, which was established in 2011 under the Prime Minister’s Department to help address the availability of talent in the country. “They have done a fantastic job going around and talking to organizations and trying to get the right women to come to the program,” says Gunn.
TalentCorp selected the candidates and helped assemble the roster of mentors, one for each participant. The mentors include Group CEO Azlin Arshad of ECM Libra Financial Group, Aminvest CEO Datin Maznah Mahbob,  Nomura Asset Management Managing Director Nor Rejina Abdul Rahim and Maybank Senior EVP Nora Manaf..
The one-to-one mentorship is a key element in strengthening self-confidence and empowerment. “Having those great role models is really important,” says Gunn. “Having a mentor and having people who’s been there and been very successful reinforce confidence, which is a real issue.”
“You should be able to step back and recognize what you’re good at, what skills you are bringing to your organization, how you’re applying that,” she says. “It’s a fantastic changing point for a lot of people. That is a huge boost to credibility when you recognize what you’re good at.”
Building networks
Both F-TEN and WIL also provide a network of contacts that is perhaps stronger than other networks because the players have months of shared experiences. Mentors in the current F-TEN program include Blackstone Group Singapore Chairman Gautam Banjeree, Sime Darby President and Group Chief Executive Mohd Bakke Bin Salleh, Genting Malaysia President and COO Lee Choong Yan, and Prudential Singapore CFO Goh Geok Cheng.
In her experience, says Gunn, women tend to be less successful than men in creating and maintaining networks. “I think it comes more naturally to men,” she says. Women are more likely to have children and they work long hours already, so when they finish that, they would not go and network; they would then go home.”
“One of the advantages of being in the Women in Leadership program is you get a ready-made network of people from different organizations, different companies at similar levels as yourself,” she adds.
Promises, promises
ICAEW is not shying away from making promises about the benefits that its programs can bring. The Women in Leadership Malaysia, for example, will help participants:
  • understand and refine their strengths and how best to use them to support and lead within their organizations
  • solve leadership issues with leading development experts and mentors
  • develop insight into their leadership style and its impact
  • gain confidence to challenge and present their own ideas
  • gain access to external perspectives and processes
  • learn about the dimensions of leadership in complex organizations in turbulent times
  • learn how to thrive within and lead organizational change
It’s a tall order. But judging from testimonials by some UK participants, there’s a good chance some good may come out of them.
“My mentor is a former FTSE 100 CFO, and I can talk to him confidentially about issues I am grappling with in the office,” says Richard McCord, Head of Finance at Centrica Energy Renewables. “He has been there and done it himself, so he really understands where I’m coming from, and he can talk to me about how he dealt with similar challenges in his own career.”
“When you have been with an organization for some time, you can become a bit insular,” says Nicola Brenchley, Head of External Reporting at telecom company BT. “It has been great to get insight into how my peers at other organizations have different approaches and ways of working to solve common or shared issues.”
The jury is still out on how well the leadership development programs will work in Asia. If they succeed, it will be great news for CFOs and others in finance.
About the Author

Cesar Bacani is Editor-in-Chief of CFO Innovation.  


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