Why Mentorship is Crucial for Building a Successful Finance Career
At Tipalti’s inaugural Illuminate Conference, four female finance leaders came together to discuss mentorship and provide insight into their leadership roles.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women occupy most CPA roles—59.7% of accountants and auditors are female, plus 52.6% of financial managers in the United States are female.
So how did these statistics come to fruition, and how do we maintain a healthy female presence in the finance field? Through mentorship, coaching, and networking, women can achieve high-level finance responsibilities and motivate the next generation.
Organizations are taking the initiative to recruit women at the early stages of their careers. Today, women have a better chance of finding mentors while assuming new responsibilities and being promoted within their organizations.
Women Are Re-Defining Their Career Paths
In 2020, 13.5% of S&P 500 and Fortune 500 Companies had female CFOs. While this is an improvement from a decade ago (8.7% female CFOs in 2010), we have a long way to go for females in the finance industry. High-level executives need to nurture young female professionals so that they can transition into leadership roles.
Having a different experience from those traditionally at the roundtable is a definite strength. Companies embrace diversity and the female perspective. Being one of the few in the room invites a unique opportunity for women to actively contribute, heavily influence strategy & decision-making, and spark curiosity amongst peers. These opportunities uplevel the female finance professional to becoming the female finance leader.
The Female Mentor
The female mentor builds a community that can help define careers. Companies know that they perform stronger with a diverse team. Diversity ensures that female leaders are doing their part to bring the next generation of emerging leaders to the table. Mentors empower female finance leaders to take on different roles and responsibilities. They offer women the same knowledge and opportunities as others.
Mentors in leadership roles elevate their mentees. Whether there’s a particular project or an exciting initiative, they invite women to access these opportunities. And after these mentees evolve into executive roles, they pay it forward to the next generation.
The Many Faces of Mentorship
Obtaining a mentor is no simple task. You have to be vocal, look at leaders who have what you want, and ask for support. To achieve this, females should take chances, position themselves with the right framework, and leverage their goals.
Mentors know that the leadership roadmap has no fixed route. You can grow out of your need for mentorship as your career evolves and even become a mentor yourself.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in empowering females to take positions of power. Female leaders understand that they should pay it forward by sharing their knowledge. They deploy efforts to change statistics and open doors for younger finance professionals.
For example, during Illuminate, Sarah Spoja, CFO at Tipalti, discussed how in her career she did not start as a CPA but as a management consultant with a mathematics background. Her experience had minimal female presence. When Spoja worked at an investment firm, there was a small percentage of women in the office. As the youngest and only female at her roundtable, she made a conscious effort to be proactive, not reactive. Her advice for her mentees and peers is to see the minority statistic as an opportunity, not a weakness.
Technology is Leveraging Mentorships
Millennial female leaders are moving quickly through the ranks due to technology. Digital natives grew up with technology, and they’re using it to their advantage.
Technology is an effective strategy to elevate your role—bringing software expertise to your finance team makes you stand out in your organization. Technology is the future of the CFO role and the finance industry, and this outlet enables women to stake a claim towards more visibility within their companies.
Plus, the windfall of the pandemic swept the world into a more virtual landscape, allowing young professionals to join spaces and communities for networking, mentorship, sponsorship, education, and coaching. These virtual groups, such as Slack channels and LinkedIn groups, have infinite collaborative opportunities for women.
Mentors, Coaches, and Sponsors…What’s the Difference?
Mentorships come in different shapes and sizes—aspiring leaders can create a group of mentors, coaches, and sponsors within their company and align with interests outside of their careers.
You might seek a coach for specific initiatives, such as presentation abilities, career development, and other strategic skill sets—they are experts in an area that you can grow in. For example, if you’re not an expert in stock administration, you know where to find people who are. This coaching can apply to anything from software, education programs, or even your direct peers.
Some professionals enlist sponsors, which can be a targeted role within the organization that advocates for women when they’re not in the room. This role is much more challenging to obtain than a mentor. However, this individual can be a force to spearhead your growth. Everyone wants a sponsor, but it should come from within your organization.
Spearheading Your Career Through Mentorship
To achieve your career goals, create a roadmap and strategize a plan. Along this journey, your plan will likely change because you might meet more people that have lived that experience and went a different direction. You can find new methods and experiences that will change your roadmap, but you will reach your desired destination. Mentors are just the passengers in this journey with you.
The future is female, and the future is here. As we witness Millennial and Gen Z females take on new leadership roles, they will learn from their mentors and become influencers to the next generation of women in finance.
Fireside Chat: Women Leaders in Finance
Catch the Illuminate virtual roundtable with Jen Scales, Sarah Spoja, Michelle Ferguson, and Kelli Lampkin.