Ep. 129: Denise Dettingmeijer - Women in Finance

June 28, 2021 | 18 Minutes

Denise Dettingmeijer, chief financial officer of Randstad North America, joins Count Me In to talk about the importance of bringing more women into finance. in this episode, Denise explains the current status of the gender gap in the industry, what has been done over time to close that gap, and what else needs to be done to make more significant progress. In her current role, she directs the company's business control (FP&A), business services, accounting, risk, internal audit, lean, tax and legal functions. She has extensive experience aligning and enhancing business performance by delivering insight to further company growth in the market. Denise understand the importance of bringing more women into finance and shares what she believes the future of the industry looks like in terms of gender parity. Download and listen now!

Contact Denise Dettingmeijer: https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisedettingmeijer/

Adam: (00:00)
 Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Adam Larson, and I'm here to kick off our conversation for episode 129 of our series. Today you will hear from Denise Dettingmeijer, Chief Financial Officer of Randstad North America. Denise is a dedicated financial leader who is passionate about bringing more women into the field. While she talks with Mitch, she explains what needs to be done and how it can be measured to ensure women are integral part of the future of finance. Let's head over to hear her perspective on the topic now.

Mitch: (00:44)
Thank you Denise, for joining us. Our conversation today is about bringing more women into the field of finance. I know you said this is something you're passionate about. So to begin, can you please share with our listeners kind of your perspective on the current environment, the gender gap in the industry, and really what interests you about this topic?

Denise: (01:02)
Yeah, I absolutely can, and thank you for having me here today. You know, starting with the current environment, we can't not speak about the pandemic, so hope everybody's safe and sound. What that has taught us as an industry, as finance professionals that flexibility, the speed, the creativity, just, you know, crisis management was always one of our skill-sets, but nothing at this level before. And putting that into an environment like a pandemic from a past where those skills were always extraordinary for us, I think just exploded, you know, what we can do for the company. When you lay that over onto the gender gap, there is definitely a gender gap as a result of COVID as well in the industry, not just in the industry, in the world with working women. So focusing down on the finance thing, the one word I have is women are definitely underrepresented in the finance worlds. Statistically there's 38% of finance majors are female and 18% of CFOs are female. Those are for fortune 500 companies., it gets lower when you include all companies, 12%. So when you start out at 38, we could argue that's too low and what can we do about the education and having people that look like me and others, you know, getting involved in the finance stream of universities then accountants and other professionals, but regardless, even at the 38%, if we could get to 38%, that would be quite an accomplishment. We're hovering much, much lower than that. So no matter how you do the math, truthfully, we're underrepresented in an industry and in a function that actually suits traditional female traits and so many career pathing for so many people.

Mitch: (02:45)
Now you are at the forefront of the industry as CFO and through your experience as a finance leader, you talked a little bit about the numbers, but what else have you noticed as far as progress? How have you seen the industry really progress with this topic?

Denise: (02:59)
Yeah, so, the industry, as I think that beginning entry level has progressed. So you see a lot of women in finance when you do finance in general. So whether it's accounting, accounts receivable, payroll, FP&A, you know, the whole scope of finance, you see more and more women at the entry level. Truthfully, I haven't personally seen it progress in the upper ranks since I've been working, it's still a unique position. There's not a lot of women when you go to CFO events, when you look at panels, it's just an underrepresented group in this area. So while the industry has progressed toward, more soft skills, being able to connect people, it used to be a really kind of a technical function. It's progressed to understanding bigger pictures and teamwork and traits that perhaps are generally more seen as female traits, the female representation and finance hasn't progressed along with that. I think there's things we can do about it, of course. But until now it's really, it's still unique for me to see another female CFO. And every time we join a meeting, we're still counting. We're like, okay, there's 20 of us, there's three, that's more than 10% great. Right. We're still counting and when we can stop counting, I think we've made a difference.

Mitch: (04:23)
It's very interesting and you know, very, as you just said, minimal change from the target, the goal that you're really looking for. So obviously there's room for improvement. When it comes to, you know, closing this gap, how do you recommend the industry improves? What is, what is still lacking? What needs to be done next?

Denise: (04:42)
Yeah. So, there's hundreds of things. I think for me, the, the big ones are, it's hard to make this change, right? And I know people talk about unconscious bias and you know, you hire people who look like you or who have the same experiences. We've got to crack that and crack it for so many reasons, not just women, but race and all of the other, you know, gender issues or diversity issues that are happening. We no longer have to, you know, 15 years ago we had to put forth the business case of why diversity matters, how come companies perform better with a diverse leadership team. Those, we don't even talk about that anymore. Everybody understands that agrees with it, it's scientific, it's proven. So I think it starts now with the humans and the fact that we can all learn and admit we have unconscious biases, here at Randstad, we switched that and go, you have to have conscious inclusion. So there's a difference between saying, yeah I'm unconsciously biased, I can't help it everybody has it. To I will consciously include, and in this case women and finance, I will consciously include them at the table. If women have trends when they enter a room of more than 10 people with, you know, eight chairs at the table and five along the wall, they'll sit against the wall cause just don't want to take up a chair. Ask them to take a seat at the table, literally. We tend to when asked what we want to do with our careers, we say, well I want to add value and be happy. Men tend to say, I want to be CFO. And so if you can not let women get away with that answer and instead of, you know, ripping off the bandaid, you can say, well, whose job do you want next? What job do you want to do, you know really help us come to the conversation in a way that will be heard because we don't answer questions the same way, we don't communicate the same way, we don't act the same way. So I really think if you change your unconscious bias, become aware of it, but flip it to that conscious inclusion and really make an effort, it'll make a huge difference. The other thing I have to call out is the elephant in the room and it's money. You gotta pay us the same. And right now for me, you can do all those other things, but if it comes down to a life-changing moment, elderly care, child care, a spouse at home, a partner at home, and somebody makes less money than somebody else, generally speaking, the one who makes less money stays home. And unless you start paying women the same, they're going to stay home. So to me, start with the pay, you're not getting a bargain if your women in your department are getting paid less now they will leave. You will have a brain drain, pay them the same and then consciously include in the conversations in the career progression, speak the way we need to be heard and help us speak so you can hear us.

Mitch: (07:34)
You know, I really love that conscious inclusion and we have done a lot as far as unconscious bias and we just released a report on, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion. As you said, all of these, everybody's aware of them at this point, you know, everything going on in the world as well, they're all very well known terms, but when you kind of combine those two things like you did, conscious inclusion kind of brings out the emotional intelligence, another big topic, right? We talk about self-awareness and self-management and what can we do to improve? So, you know, that definitely all melts together so well. And, you know, I really appreciate that, that's something to definitely take away from here.

Denise: (08:18)
Yeah. I'll say as a CFO, you know, and as a finance leader, if you're used to making plans and having detailed numbers and, you know, deployable plans that will yield actions and milestones and ensuring strategic planning outcomes or tactical outcomes, it's the same thing with DNI. If you don't have a plan with numbers and intent and milestones and outcomes and checking along the way if you're getting there, you're not going to get there. So I don't think there's a better skilled person in the company to help with the DNI plan then the CFO or a finance leader, because of how we're trained to think and how we think about the numbers. It's the same process. It's not a HR thing, it's a leader thing and everybody, whether you're a CFO, finance leader or not in finance, needs to participate and really ensure that there's clear guidance, clear goals, and clear process to get us there with adjustments when it's not working.

Mitch: (09:25)
That's absolutely right and you were talking earlier, I thought about that. You know, many of our listeners here in finance, they're very, you know, quantitative people, it's all about the numbers and how do we make things work, and that makes sense. But a big shift in the profession, the industry as a whole is, really taking on some more of these qualitative features, right? Some of the softer skills becoming the business partner, this is all things we talk about. And this is all part of it, this is all part of that qualitative, some of that, less numbers driven and more people driven perspective. So, really great topic very well said and obviously we have outlined many of the challenges so far, and I think, there has been some action that can be taken based on your perspective and things you've shared. Even if everyone is able to kind of implement these recommended changes and work towards bringing women into finance more and into higher positions, higher pay. You know, even with more, if our listeners decide I'm going to do this, what are some of the obstacles you can still expect to encounter as you go through this process? Even if you buy into it.

Denise: (10:35)
Yeah there's two angles to that. The one challenge you will have in doing this is the same we have with everything, it's time and priority. It takes time, it takes a conscious effort, it takes a plan and it takes it being a priority. And very often you'll hear people, “I just don't have time”. Well, you do have a lot of time, you just haven't prioritized it within that time. So that to me is always the biggest obstacle is where's the passion, where's the need, again, we don't have to prove any longer that diversity matters, that it makes companies better, it makes companies more profitable. So where can and how come you can't prioritize. So that's my first, is a personal make it a priority and how do you do that? There is time you work 10 hours, 12 hours, however many you have work a lot of hours. There's time. How do you prioritize that? That's for me, the biggest thing there. The other piece though, is that this is a big transition. So it's difficult to work in a world where people, when I say they don't look like you, so they don't think like you, they don't act like you, there's not a role model to look at. If you, you know, I had an advantage growing up as the only female in finance in manufacturing which is like a double whammy. I love sports. So Monday mornings and the Monday management meetings, we would talk about the game, the quarterback, and I could hang with that. I had an early career female who worked for me. We were on a plane once, and I looked at what she was reading. She was reading basketball for dummies was the name of the book. So why are you reading that? She goes, cause you guys talk about basketball, I know nothing about it. I was like, wow. So there's, there's the time and priority, but there's also the adjustment until there is more mass, until there's more percentages, higher percentages. These women are still going to be the only one or the one of a few and that takes a special time conscious inclusion, all the things we just talked about, that isn't a one and done. It's not just the Monday meeting. It's every meeting, it's every project. Don't think for us, let us think on our own. So if you're not giving the job to somebody because they just got married and now you assume they're going to have a baby, let us think on our own, you know, ask us questions and really include us until there's enough of a mass, that it doesn't become a unique situation any longer. It will take a lot of time.

Mitch: (13:09)
Absolutely and, it's something like we said, it's really that human driven factor, right. Wanting to more or less get to know people first upfront, right. I think that definitely helps with the relationship management and being able to, empathize with people and it doesn't always have to be about something negative, it could be about something positive as well and put yourself in those shoes. You know, a lot of steps to be taken understood, absolutely. So we talked a little bit about the future and what we can expect, but I would also like to, get your perspective on what changes you expect to see and, you know, short-term, long-term, when it comes to bringing more women into finance, what do you think that looks like? Is there enough awareness at this point, what can be done and, you know, how long do you think it takes?

Denise: (14:01)
Yeah, so I would have, I'll start with the end, I would have hoped by now in my career path that there were, I'm not going to go with 50, let's go with the 38%. Those who have studied it, have a career in it, right. I would have hoped we were there by now and so I'm less optimistic of the time it will take a 17 year old daughter and, you know, I am working hard to make sure her generation doesn't have to work as hard and fight like we did. COVID is putting, you know, that back quite a bit actually, so I'm less optimistic of the time it will take, I think it’ll be another generation truthfully, but if we don't start now, it will not ever be. So that's the by when. Why I think and how we can make this work is the finance world, you know, back in the day you were an accounting technician, you were a hard worker, you worked through the night, you closed your books, you worked weekends. There was this kind of pride in the effort and the energy and, you know, we talk about work-life balance, now our work-life blend, which is what I prefer to talk about, it didn't exist really, you know, back in the day, if you are a finance professional. It is table stakes now. Male, female, people don't want to work like that. So the industry is changing toward automation. It's changing toward the robotics. It's changing toward those soft skills of collaboration, of cooperation, helping the business grow. You still have to close your books, absolutely do, and pay people and do all of the, you know, real core support with your controls and everything in place. But the piece that really adds significant value to the business and the customer is that growth and collaboration, strategic planning, data analytics, insights, that piece and that soft skills that I think you can train finance skills upon. And so in that aspect, if you can find a leader traits of a human being, women as well, that exhibit those EQ type soft skills, we can teach them finance. So don't let the deterrent of the education prevent an opportunity and at the same time, I see businesses in general, switching toward this EQ soft skilled people person, motivating creative need in finance, at the same time, all the rest of the roles need to learn finance. You need to know how a P/L is structured, what you do impacts, what you do doesn't impact and how it all links together in order to be a great business person and a leader in a new organization where the data is at your fingertips, the reports are there and you're interpreting and learning also on your own. So I think as that merges together, we're going to have a bigger ecosystem of business, including finance and numbers then we will have departments. And that only sets the stage for, as I said before, anybody with the great EQ, you know, soft skills that generally are attributed more to the female gender than to the male.

Closing: (17:11)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.