Eton Bridge Partners’ recent CFO Pathways Report found the CFO role remains male-dominated with only around 18% of CFO appointments being female. This suggests there is still much work to do on gender diversity in this industry. So what is the journey really like for a woman on the path to CFO? Who better to ask than somebody who has lived that experience; Mandeep Toor in our Finance Practice spoke to Barbara Inskip, CFO at Pinewood Studios, the largest film and high-end TV studio in the UK, to discuss her route to CFO and share insights from her career journey.
Mandeep: Could you give us an overview of your career journey and how you progressed to CFO – what kind of challenges did you have to overcome?
Barbara: I started out at one of the “Big Four” accountancy firms, which was a superb start. However, I realised that I was less interested in technical accounting and far more interested in helping businesses grow and develop. I moved into industry where, over several years, I gained broad financial knowledge and ran increasingly large teams. After that, I joined a multi-national energy company as Group Reporting Manager, and was one of the early hires in a period where the aim was to upskill finance in all capabilities. I implemented a strategy to support this at a group level, before moving through business unit and divisional roles with the same aim. My role gradually grew to incorporate business partnering, planning and business performance management, business risk and control, as well as the usual accounting and reporting for the largest division in the group; all invaluable skills to learn.
I was offered a position as Group Financial Controller at a FTSE-100 company. The company operated across the globe and in multiple sectors. It provided me with superb board, investor and treasury experience. I then took a position at a large well-known FTSE-100 housebuilder that wanted someone to optimise their financial capability. I worked on modernising their finance capabilities and systems, focusing on the core numbers that really drove the business forward. After four years, I moved to my current role as Group CFO for Pinewood Group.
MT: Construction is an area that tends to be more male-dominated, how did you find it?
BI: Over the years, I have worked in sectors that have that tendency. Sometimes it was difficult, but you need to make a choice; either be in it or don’t be in it. I think if you want to do it, you should just do it and get on with it! We have come a long way in terms of gender diversity, which is fantastic. It can be difficult to be given those same chances, and sometimes you have to put your hand up and say, ‘I can and want to do this.’
MT: What advice would you give to somebody looking to move into their first CFO assignment?
BI: As with any role, don’t try to get there quicker than you should. Make sure you know how to run finance and can identify ‘what good looks like’; if you don’t have that, you can’t help a business to drive value and be successful.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got the right skillset straight away – go out there and get the experience. You have got a network, you can read…get prepared and ready for when that CFO role comes up, you are the right person for the job.
Then trust in yourself.
Don’t hide back in the numbers; keep moving forward. You are on a board and have an equal voice. Your purpose is to keep the business safe but also to drive it forward.
MT: How has the CFO role evolved since you began your career? Do you feel it has become more inclusive?
BI: In the past, it was all about “you know your numbers and you can add up”, but now there is so much more to it… Of course, you still need to be able to make it add up!
However, you are also there to support and develop the business and make it the best it can be. You are not the only person who does that, but you can provide another way of thinking in the room – you are able to ask questions and sow the seed for new ideas in a way that others might not have previously considered.
In terms of inclusivity, we are still some way off. Getting to 30% of board members being female is a great goal but we still need to see a suitable weighting in the executive as well as in the non-exec.
MT: What are the benefits of having a diverse boardroom and how can a diverse leadership team be valuable?
BI: There are so many benefits! There is such wide variety of characteristics in the customers, employees, shareholders and community around you. It’s very hard to represent those stakeholders if you only hire in one image. That might be a mental image, a certain way of thinking, or it might be something more obvious such as gender or ethnicity. We have to make sure we are representing as broad a range of people as we possibly can. We need brave people who are willing to offer that up, someone who offers up a different perspective and is not afraid to challenge and change things.
MT: Our 2022 CFO Pathways Report found that 73% of UK CFOs had sector-relevant experience. You moved to a different sector when you joined Pinewood, what was behind that decision?
BI: In a nutshell, I have worked in construction. Pinewood links to this in that it is a real estate company in the film sector – we still have to build and maintain the right product in the right places. It was great to get a chance to be in a sector that is tangential to a sector I love, in an area I knew so well but something different and exciting.
MT: What advice would you give your younger self?
BI: Know that you are there to do the right thing, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy… When you become an accountant, you sign up to a code of ethics. You need to be able to do the hard things because they are the right things. You are not there to be liked, you are there to do the right thing – it’s what you sign up for and you have to be a little bit brave!
You will need to take difficult decisions, but you can always do it in a kind way.
My thanks to Barbara for sharing her career story and valuable advice for all aspiring CFOs. Eton Bridge Partners are one of Europe’s leading finance executive solutions businesses with exceptional networks – please do get in touch if you would like to discuss your own CFO journey.
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