As well as businesses asking what a CFO or Financial Director can do for them, we are often approached by experienced finance professionals who are looking to take on flexible, interim roles but wonder what it might be like. To answer those questions, and in honour of International Women’s Day, we spoke to one of our female CFO’s to get her insight.
Sofia has worked with WrightCFO since September 2016. and has worked with the same start-up marketing consultancy ever since, as well as recently adding to her client portfolio. Sofia is currently a portfolio Finance Director/CFO for three different start-up/SME companies: two branding agencies and a jewellery company (online and instore retail).
Sofia had responded to an add placed looking for quality Financial Directors to join the WrightCFO consultancy. Sophie first met Sofia over coffee, where they immediately hit it off and spent an awfully long time discussing the benefits for all of outsourced flexible working, as well as sharing stories about being working mums.
What is your professional background?
I qualified as a chartered accountant 15 years ago and swiftly moved into a variety of commercial finance roles in media and entertainment, before taking on my first FD role at BAFTA back in 2011. After having children, I wanted to work more flexibly and was lucky to take on my first part time Finance Director role at Unilever Ventures backed Snog Frozen Yoghurt, working with an incredible management and investor team.
What does your average day look like?
The days are so varied according to the client and my frequency at their office.
When I am in the office, I usually have back to back meetings to discuss key agenda items. Business performance, cashflow management and hiring are usually up there, as well as growth and investment plans. I always try to take at least 15 minutes out of the office at lunchtime to clear my head and get some perspective. I tend to take on any nitty gritty spreadsheet or analysis work at home. Due to the part time nature of my work, I usually hot desk in an open plan office with my lap top, whereas at home I have a number of huge, excel friendly computer screens to work on!
What do you think are the key skills to have as a Portfolio CFO?
Multitasking, prioritisation and communication are key, especially when juggling more than one client. There are a multitude of tasks for each client, mostly urgent, and with limited days per week or month, it is important to make sure that everyone is aligned on what needs doing and by when.
From a personal perspective, the ability to switch off is important, yet so difficult when you are essentially dealing with a number of companies at crucial stages of growth and all the associated stresses.
What do you think are the current challenges for women in this sector?
The typical FD agency model was until quite recently dominated by men in suits and whilst most companies I have encountered haven’t given gender a second thought, there are still some who find comfort in the traditional mould.
In your opinion, does the glass ceiling exist for women CFOs?
Only in the sense that some women will take time out to have children and thenceforth will take on the load of being the primary care giver. The return to the workplace is then wrought with the age long struggle of juggling both home and work life. The initial maternity period of time out, coupled with not being able to, or not wanting put in long hours or work full time can most definitely have an impact on career progression and may stop some women from returning at all.
But so much has changed with shared parental leave and there is a real move in recent years towards more flexible working for both men and women. I think there will be increasing pressure on companies not welcoming this change as they will essentially start to have trouble attracting talent compared to the more open ones.
Do you think enough is being done to promote women in the workplace?
I wholly believe the best person for the job should win, but there are many factors at play, including experience to date, future potential, team fit (which includes having a mix of complimentary personalities), etc.
The best performing teams I have come across have been well balanced, in terms of gender, skills and approach.
How do you see your sector changing in the next year?
I have seen the number of part time FD roles increasing since I first started in 2014. The growth of the start-up scene coupled with a move towards flexible working has brought real change to the job market and I think the next year will continue to see this growth in spite of political changes.
How do you see your sector changing in the next 5 years?
As people take more control over their work-life balance, I believe the long hours 5-day a week mould will start to be a thing of the past. There is a wealth of talent in the market of “returners”, those who seek a better work/life balance and those who want to pursue more than one career (one that meets their creative needs and one that pays the bills) and those that wish to dedicate themselves to work for a shorter week and to their personal interests for a longer weekend. I believe companies will increasingly begin to respect and support this.
If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming an interim CFO please get in touch to discuss.
What advice would you give someone looking to start working in your sector?
Be prepared to be involved in both breadth and depth. I have been involved in so many aspects of work from high level strategy and investment decks, HR and office matters, to client pitches and international office openings, as well as the very nitty gritty of posting journals.
It is a very rewarding rollercoaster ride!
Would that advice be any different to a woman looking to start working in your sector?
Some women find selling their skillset, experience and worth harder than men. I would say that having the confidence to pitch to a business is crucial. You are often a big investment for a growing company, but one that will reap rewards and help to strengthen it.
In this months newsletter we’ll be celebrating International Women’s Day, to sign up to our newsletter click here.
If you’d like to find out more about joining the WrightCFO team then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.