Women in Finance: Recruit on the Potential, not on the Background (USA)
We are all used to reading job descriptions that ask for specific degrees, length of time working in the industry, and other strict qualifications. But what if these aren’t reasonable requirements for every person?
Despite growth and improvement over recent years, the world of finance is still heavily tailored to men. Jobs require 24/7 commitment to work or ask for 15+ years of experience—both of which may not be possible for many women who have chosen to devote time to their family.
Olfa Zorgati joined us on episode 4 of the Jenji Talks podcast to discuss this issue, how things are changing, and the work that still needs to be done for women in finance.
Olfa Zorgati is Tunisian but studied and started her career in Paris. After receiving her degree in business, she moved through several positions all over the world. She started out in an investment bank, and then moved into the world of enterprise with digital technology and telecommunications.
Olfa moved to Silicon Valley and worked with start-up companies; after, she moved to London and worked for a SaaS company. Today, Olfa is the CFO & EVP of Operations at the ESI Group, a leading company in digital simulation technologies with over 1100 employees worldwide.
Through her diverse portfolio of experience, Olfa has developed a valuable perspective on what it takes to successfully lead large companies and deliver results in high-pressure environments. She is uniquely positioned to discuss women in finance, both her own experience and general trend she sees throughout the industry.
The World of Finance: Why is it Still Gendered?
Things are changing. We must acknowledge that there are more women working in executive and high-level positions, both in finance and other industries. Olfa sees that this is particularly true of the enterprise world—more women hold seats in leadership and on boards.
But there are other parts of the finance industry that are still very gendered. Banks, venture capital, and private equity is improving, but at a slow pace. Olfa believes the reason for this is that these jobs are created with men in mind. Consider some expectations of these jobs:
Full availability and commitment to the job; 24/7 accessibility.
15+ years of experience; international experience is desired, too.
Small teams, long hours, and few boundaries around work and home life.
For many women, this is just not possible. Women who choose to have children often take a 5-15-year break from their careers to focus on their family. While they may still be working during that time, they are unlikely to be able to travel around the world or be constantly accessible to their workplace.
So, if companies expect these qualifications, how can women succeed in the role?
Therefore, companies should recruit on potential, not experience. In the 10 years that a man was traveling internationally and focusing exclusively on their career, a woman may have been developing other skills, experiences, and abilities that are equally valuable and important. It’s time that those characteristics and qualities are valued equally in the corporate finance world.
Two people’s career paths may look different, but one is not automatically better then the other. To move away from a gendered finance industry, recruitment needs to be based on value, ability, and potential then stringent requirements.
Embracing Conversation to Fight Taboos about Women in Finance
The topic of women in finance has, historically, been a bit of a taboo topic. Olfa shared about how she would bring it up at a dinner party and guests may feel uncomfortable—especially men.
But even if it makes people uncomfortable, it’s an important conversation. And, increasingly, people are embracing it. The goal is to normalize the conversation and talk about solutions and ways to move forward.
There are two ways to do this:
Continue the conversation: Increased awareness about inequality in the workplace and the experiences of women in finance will help us move forward to better solutions. So, keep the conversation going with your peers, colleagues, and leaders.
Embrace quotas: There is some controversy about introducing gender quotas, but Olfa is in favor of them. Some cultures may not need to have legal quotas, but some places—like France—can benefit from them. When the goal is to have X% of women on the board, it means that we must start looking at other qualifications, like skills and abilities, rather than specific years of experience.
Women’s Issue or Society’s Issue?
When talking about women in finance or addressing gender inequality, it can sometimes be dismissed as a “women’s issue.” Olfa argues that it is not just an issue for women to figure out, but one for society to care about and address.
We know that diversity—in gender, race, age, and experience—makes us better. This has been shown in workplaces and companies—greater diversity leads to better results. For this reason, leadership needs to care about including women at the table and creating more opportunities for women in finance.
Many investors are also embracing this by pressuring companies to increase diversity. They know that it increases profitability, innovation, and results. It’s becoming a corporate value in many workplaces, so we will continue to see slow but steady change.
Olfa offered a final piece of personal advice: don’t feel guilty about investing in yourself and getting support! Women who want to prioritize their career should invest in themselves and their family by getting the support they need—and do it freely, knowing they should have equal opportunities as men to build and grow their career and their family.
If you want to hear more from Olfa, feel free to follow and connect with her on LinkedIn. And if you want to hear more from us, listen along at the Jenji Talks podcast. We have some great guests coming up, including Pauline Sauvage, CFO for SaaS companies and Clair Somer, Finance Director at Upflow.
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