Ep. 173: Celebrating International Women's Day!

March 07, 2022 | 27 Minutes

Mardi McBrien, Managing Director of the IFRS Foundation, and Brigitte de Graaff, CMA, CSCA, Chair of IMA’s Sustainable Business Management Global Task Force and PhD candidate at the department of Accounting of the Vrije Universiteit Amstedam, join Count Me In to talk about the role of women in sustainability. IMA's Manager of Brand Content and Storytelling, Margaret Michaels, hosts this mini-panel discussion in celebration of International Women's Day. International Women's Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8th to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. The special guests for this panel were specifically chosen for their work in the area of sustainability and to talk about the pipeline of future female finance leaders as well as their own thoughts on what unique impacts women are making in the work of sustainability. In this commemorative mini-panel conversation, Margaret leads the discussion by addressing various pieces of research to substantiate the value of women in sustainability. Download and listen now!

Mardi McBrien, Managing Director of the IFRS Foundation, and Brigitte de Graaff, CMA, CSCA, Chair of IMA’s Sustainable Business Management Global Task Force and PhD candidate at the department of Accounting of the Vrije Universiteit Amstedam, join Count Me In to talk about the role of women in sustainability. IMA's Manager of Brand Content and Storytelling, Margaret Michaels, hosts this mini-panel discussion in celebration of International Women's Day. International Women's Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8th to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. The special guests for this panel were specifically chosen for their work in the area of sustainability and to talk about the pipeline of future female finance leaders as well as their own thoughts on what unique impacts women are making in the work of sustainability. In this commemorative mini-panel conversation, Margaret leads the discussion by addressing various pieces of research to substantiate the value of women in sustainability. Download and listen now!

Contact Mardi McBrien: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mardimcbrien/
Contact Brigitte de Graaff: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brigitte-de-graaff-134b408/
Contact Margaret Michaels: https://www.linkedin.com/in/margaret-michaels/

IMA's Website: https://www.imanet.org/
Sustainability CFO: The CFO of the Future?: https://www.imanet.org/insights-and-trends/external-reporting-and-disclosure-management/sustainability-cfo-the-cfo-of-the-future

Research cited:
Full Episode Transcript:
Mitch: (00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Today, we have a special conversation for you as we hosted a mini panel of speakers in honor, of International Women's Day. International Women's Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8th to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women for IMA and our management, accounting listeners, Margaret Michaels, IMA's Manager of Brand Content and Storytelling speaks with two women about their work in the area of sustainability. Marty McBrien and, and Bridget Degraph join Margaret here on, Count Me In to talk about the unique role women are playing in sustainability and the pipeline of future female finance leaders in this space. To celebrate this important day and valuable topic, keep listening as we head over to the panel conversation now

Margaret: (01:05)
It is such an honor to be facilitating this discussion today. I have a strong interest in sustainability, and I know other Count Me In listeners do as well. I want to structure this discussion around proof points about women in sustainability, which have been substantiated by research. And I want to hear each of your reactions to the statements and their implications for women's work in sustainability. So the first proof point women are playing an outsized role in sustainability work. According to a 2021 wine group study, women went from holding 28% of chief sustainability officer positions in 2011 to 54% in 2021, which is a 94% increase. So let's start with you, Marty, in your role, you've connected with so many professionals in this space. Would you share your observations on working with women leaders in this area? Does it surprise you that women are playing this outsized role and what might be responsible for the dramatic increase in their participation and in the work of sustainability?

Marty: (02:26)
Thanks Margaret. And, thank you, IMA it's a real pleasure to be here on what is, you know, such an important day to celebrate, you know, the, really amazing community of women that have played such important roles in leadership both now and in the future and sustainability across the world. You know, I'm really, privileged to be , part of such an amazing space. And, and I guess if it doesn't surprise me the statistics that you have, I've, been lucky enough actually, to emulate the success of a series of amazing female leaders before me. I always say I'm so privileged that I've just had really fabulous female boss, female leader, female mentor in this space across my 20 plus year career, that I've just been able to, you know, grow and thrive and build off them. And so, you know, I'm going to be forever grateful for that.

Marty: (03:15)
but also if you think more broadly beyond me, you have, you know, sustainability women are the ones out there that are taking active steps to educate them themselves on issues linked to sustainability, whether that be within the home, in their broader community, in their lifestyles. And so as they learn more and more, they're actually looking for roles that reflect their, and I think that's what we're starting to see today. I is women taking on roles and wanting to jump into roles that you are increasing. You know, there's never been a bigger demand for roles in sustainability ever, and, and women more and more aligning their values. We can cut onto more of that later and stepping into that space. And if we think about my voluntary career, so not my professional career, but what would I do in my free time.

Marty: (04:05)
And, I do a lot of work with, you know, small charities that focus on livelihoods and empowerment work for women. And, and it's those women in these developing countries that are being affected by climate and sustainability issues the most. And they're the ones that are then taking action and wanting to do more. And so, you know, that's the space, I think, where we can all do a bit more maybe to help, help give those, those ladies that are really trying to take action, which will have, you know, significant impacts on our future. You know, I think there's, various different ways to take these statistics, but I think, you know, it's all encouraging and it's all the right to action of travel.

Margaret: (04:39)
Bridget, do you have any thoughts on, women's outside role in sustainability?

Bridget: (04:47)
Well, I think I mostly agree with what Marty just said and, it's, it's quite funny. I hadn't heard about these numbers before, but, when I started thinking now about the research I've done within companies on sustainability and integrated, and also about the taskers actually, a sustainable business management task forces. And if I'm thinking about that, I think we are really very much, I think either about 50, 50% male female, or even with the leaders, the sustainability officers and the leaders I spoke within those companies. I think we, a majority were us indeed female, andI never really realized that actually until now. And I start thinking about it. and I, agree that there's probably not necessarily just one reason who might explain this dramatic increase. however, what I can imagine is that as Marty just said, there are just so many roles now available within sustainability it's within that sense,it's not a new field, but it's a field where more and more roles are being created.

Bridget: (05:51)
And I think, as what I saw also in those companies is that sometimes women just tend to set up, step up and create a role in the way they think that is necessary in their organization. So they just start, you know, breaking down those silos, their themselves, that's what I've seen, those new roles they are available there. you just need to make it. And I think women especially are very well aware of how they can create a role and also how they can build in certain flexibility on what their responsibilities are, what they do, and don't necessarily stick into one silo, but make sure that you create these connections throughout your organization. so i think that might be, one of the reasons why you see more and more women in sustainability, just because they are stepping up and taking this chance. And also on the other hand, I mean, if you're looking at define as an accounting profession, if you compare 10, 20 years ago, until now, there are just so many more women available in the pool of accounting profession, professionals to pick up this role. So, it may also be just a natural growth of women in leader positions, nowadays. Yeah,

Margaret: (07:01)
That makes sense. And I think both of you, speak to sustainability and women's values and interest in the home in family and society as contributing factors. And I, I think that's very relevant. So the next, proof point, if you will, that I wanted to bring up, had to do with a finding from, McKinsey's 20, 21 women in the workplace study and not surprisingly in the year of COVID, McKinsey has said women faced special related to work life balance, but they also found that women's commitment to sustainability, especially in the arena of D&I remained unwavering. The report stated women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and taking on the extra work that comes with D& I compared with men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity equity and inclusion efforts. So let's start with you Bridget. What are your thoughts on this statement and McKinsey's finding?

Bridget: (08:18)
Well, I'm not sure whether I'm very much surprised about these findings. I can imagine that women having faced for a long time that maybe sometimes they just had to do the extra step in order to get to a certain place. They naturally might feel committed to a D& I, efforts basically. So I can't quite imagine that they know that's, how hard it can be, what hurdles you can, come across. And that therefore just it's, well, it's not in their nature, but it's sort of the way they, might feel like, well, we know that this is important and we cannot stop it, especially not in these times, especially not in the past year. For example, I also think that, well, they know what they know what it means, so they know what perhaps you might need if you, if you want to keep a healthy work life balance. If, you're learning your career, with personal wishes as well, besides your career that maybe they know what flexibility is required and they are much, well, maybe a little bit more, willing to accommodate that as well. So I think for the diversity equity and inclusion efforts that, I'm not very much surprised about the fact, that's, they are continuing on that even in this year. Yeah.

Margaret: (09:42)
And Marty, what are your thoughts on that?

Marty: (09:45)
I mean, I think this is something all leaders have to get better at, right? This is something that all of us have to keep challenging ourselves to evolve and get better at and think more widely. And, although as a, you know, a working mom that, that does the, you know, the sort of crazy juggle and as, you know, blaze my trail. I would say that we all need to get better at this. And I rely on all my team, all of those around me to continue to challenge, to continue to inspire me and others to do better in, you know, even everything from, you know, when we plan events to, providing everything from translation, making sure what I do is accessible to everyone around the world in a way they can access it. You know, it's not just me and my, you know, my little team and making sure, but it's diversity of thought and opinion that we're seeking on everything we do as well as gender, as well as making sure we're available in different times to talk to people, making things available so that I can, upskill other parts of the world in what I'm doing.

Marty: (10:44)
I'm just really privileged to have led a team for the last 10 years that have challenged me consistently on doing better on D&I issues. And I think overall, that's just made me a better person, as well and allowed me to, and to help others think about those, those issues as well. So I think this is a real team area and, personal area that I think we can, we can do better on it. And then always continually learning and evolving. You know, there's no one fixed answer to this.

Margaret: (11:14)
That's very encouraging to hear. And especially in IMA, diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority for our organization. And it's good to hear that it's also high on the priority list at others as well.

Marty: (11:30)
Margaret not to cut in, my staff would never let me get away with it. If it wasn't like culture is so important, the culture that we have, the culture, I mean, I could emulate the perfect that culture, but to be the staff saying, Marty, like, come on let's we need to do better. And that challenge just makes me want to do better. Right. And that's from men and women, you know, of all ages and that's, that's cool. That's where this, that's where this needs to be.

Margaret: (11:55)
I agree. And also, maybe people don't know D&I is, under the umbrella of sustainability, but, you know, it, as I get more educated about sustainability myself, I see how it's a natural fit. So, you know, I've, I've welcomed greater discussion about how de and I is a contributing factor in that.

Bridget: (12:19)
Yeah, well basically, if you are a sustainable organization moving more and more towards, towards a sustainable business model, part of that sustainable business model is that you recognize diversity, equity and inclusion that you just can't do it on your, on your own in just not your own way. You need to have this diversity of thought, you need to have this broader mindset. You need to think outside the box, especially if you're gonna move towards a real sustainable business model, real sustainable business management. You're just not gonna cut it with one way of few. So you really need that diversity in your team, and you really need that. That's, well, others are challenging you in a way in order to make sure that you are going to achieve those goals that you set for yourself. So it is an essential part of sustainability to have diversity equity and inclusion in your team and in your whole organization.

Marty: (13:11)
And it's not a tick box exercise, right? This is not one of those ones that you just tick the box and you move on.

Bridget: (13:17)
No, it's something you really have to work on, but you really have to live it as well. It's not something you can just align with and, and, and hire someone, that you think, well, that's creates diversity. No, you really have to live and breathe through this and really probably need to make changes to your, the way work, in order to make this happen.

Margaret: (13:37)
Absolutely diversity equity inclusion, as you both mentioned, encompasses gender, but it encompasses race. It encompasses age, it can encompass a whole variety of factors. but another proof point I wanted to take a look at was, the link between gender and sustainability engagement, which is kind of the thesis of this whole podcast. there have been researchers who studied the link between gender and sustainability engagement with their results published in the October, 2021 issue of the journal of management and governance, which is a peer reviewed journal. They found that the presence of women in top echelon positions is associated with greater engagement in social and environmental projects, and their presence also positively influences the mental and social performance and increases the level quality and transparency of sustainability disclosure and furthermore, the presence of women in top echelon positions and the implementation of sustainability activities improve both the firm financial performance and value. So I just kinda wanna dissect, that finding because it's pretty impactful. There are clear indications that when an organization focuses on sustainability, they see improvement in their financial performance and value. So it's not just some intangible, goal it's very tangible and what they can achieve can be measured and will speak to investors and other people that, are stakeholders in the organization. So I just wanted to get your thoughts. Marty, we can start with you. Does it surprise you that there are tangible links between sustainability and improved financial performance and value?

Marty: (15:44)
Not at all here. I mean, no surprises at all. Mark. Great. you mean, we've talked about it a little bit already, but diversity for, or an approach just adds to the conversation at the top. and, it allows you to challenge, allow it to create more like inclusive conversations. It creates more resilient businesses and, and it is just, companies that are going through and putting the time and effort and money invest, you know, investment into really doing high quality sustainability disclosure, you know, good sustainability reporting and disclosure, isn't a cheap exercise, right? This should have the same sort of financial resources around it as you do for your financial reporting, the same sort of controls when you go to that sort of effort and you get that commitment at, the top, and you've got that broad diversity of thought. It's no wonder they're getting better performance scores, because they're thinking about this as a whole in the round and committing to it properly. And with the, you know, with that broader, you know, resilience thinking, you know, diversity of thought you will, of course naturally get better results. It's, thinking about something differently, taking something outside the box, outside a traditional thought process about how you can evolve something or do something a bit different that has better results in the long run for the business.

Margaret: (17:05)
Do you agree with that?

Bridget: (17:08)
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think this really relates back to what we're just discussing about diversity equity and include, you know, if you have, diversity of thought in your team, if you have diversity of thoughts in your, in your boardroom already, because that's where it needs to be. That's where the, in the end, these strategic decisions are being made. So you really want to make sure that there is diversity, in the, and at the board level. but really if you create that, it means that you are as a team, as an organization, you are much more, willing, but also much more resilient to the changes that are the outside, outside world is giving you basically. So really there isn't this business case for sustainability and it's shown in previous research as well. You know, the board diversity that it really does create value, not only non-financial value, but also financial value.

Bridget: (17:57)
And I, I don't really like the separation between non-financial and financial, because I think it's, it's absolutely tightly, not tightly not to gather financial non-financial value. but that's, that's, that's where, where the, the real value creation is, and that's where it comes from a diverse team. So with women on top, and not, not just women, just a real diverse, team that you need to have to make these decisions, they are, well, I think the force behind creating value in general, for yourself as a company, as well as for society. And that's what this whole sustainability premise is about. That it's not something which, is for just for the outside world. It's not just about a reporting part. It's not just about, about showing how well you're doing to others. Now, it's really integrating this in your, organization, integrating it in your, this making, integrating it in the fibers of your organization. Meaning that you're actually, like I said before, living through this, but that is what creates value for now, but also in the future.

Margaret: (19:01)
Absolutely. So finally, we've talked about a lot of different things I wanted to touch on the future of female lead and sustainability, especially their involvement in sustainable business management, which is so closely tied to strong accounting and finance knowledge. Deloitte, in collaboration with the network of executive women has closely studied gen Z. Those born between 1995 and 2012, who make up 24% of the us population and found that when it comes to choosing employers, 77% of gen Z respondents say that it is important that they work in an organization whose values align with their own. And these values include working for companies that place an emphasis on making a positive impact on society. So as companies look at this future pipeline of workers, how important is it that they adopt sustainability as an integral part of how they're operating and make sure that it's part of their companywide mission and values, bridge. Do you wanna start as a, I am a global taskforce member with people who are representative of gen Z. You, you probably know very well, where their priorities lie, choosing their employers.

Bridget: (20:32)
They, well, it's a fair point. It's becoming more and more important for this generation in need that they are working, that they are adding value to society, that they feel like they're doing giving something back to the community that is not just about creating shareholder value, but creating broader value, in that sense. however, I do not really think that companies who haven't made those steps yet that they are missing out in a way or that they, they, they are, I think they can turn it around really quickly. So if you want to speak towards, this, this workforce, of, gen sets, I think, there are still lots of opportunities. I can imagine. There has been so much has happened in the field of sustainable business management in the past, years, that you can learn so much from other organizations around you who have changed the way they work, who have changed their business model, who have changed the way they see or look at value creation. And I think Gen Z, for example, is, a generation who might see it, even though they want to work as an organization who has these values, they might also see it as a challenge to bring it to an organization to get those values. there's a great challenge there, but there's so much to, I think you can really turn this around real quickly as an organization.

Margaret: (21:48)
Marty, what do you think you think companies can ramp up sustainability efforts and, and meet these demands of our, of our future leaders and pipeline of talent?

Marty: (21:58)
Yeah, I think they're gonna have to, to be honest, I think if they're not there yet, they haven't got long there to get there because, you know, post pandemic more and more employees are acting with their fee, right. They're aligning much more with their personal values and wanting to go and find a company that aligns with their, you know, a professional versus personal value alignment as they're, as they're stepping out the front door every day. And, and often that's more and more as we're seeing in the pandemic more and more around making more sustainable decisions, different changes to livelihood situations, different balance of work, you know, buying, you know, so much has changed in the last two years of the pandemic that I think employers don't have very long to be really ramping up their broadest sustainability, work program that they possibly can to engage, not just GenEd, but you know what, I don't even know what I am I'm.

Marty: (22:48)
So now a days they call me something between baby boomers and Gen Z should I say, but, you know, even I require I've recently started a new job here at the IRS foundation coming from CDB. And the first thing I was like, is there alignment of values? Am I still going to be purpose driven? You know, I want a purpose driven job. Does this organization align with my values? Yes, it does. But you know, have to work through all of these steps nowadays. And that's a really important part of me when I get up and I you know, get out of bed and I go to work. And I think if you are not aligning more and more with sustainability, you just won't get the best talent and you won't get that inclusion and diversity of thought, you will be paying for second rate talent. And I think what you really need to be doing is starting to, move the dial further on this now and working out how, how you can align your business more and more with the broadening and fast paced sustainability agenda. And, then, you know, applying that to your recruitment and retention strategies as well.

Bridget: (23:47)
And, and actually, I also think that, you made a fair point that,, the good talents or the talent with a lot of, of well chances there. But I really think that there is, not enough, people focused on, sustainable business management as in, there is a whole world of opportunities out there in sustainable business management and talent is scarce in this field, to get to this real, point where you are able to make a difference within organization and really see how an organization moves away from this, traditional view on value creation and to how can we really be, well, indeed purpose driven those, people in the workforce. They are very scarce. I would, in that sense, just call upon all those, women in the fields and all the men as well, actually, because we need them all, but really to, to think about what this could mean for your own career and to see the opportunities that are there, they are plenty. So just go explore this wonderous world of sustainable business management, because we need you,

Marty: (24:53)
I, couldn't agree more on that. There's never been more opportunities to move in sustainability at ESG, anywhere in the world than there are now. I mean, they've never paid as well either. Let's be honest, you know, so I think I, if you are thinking of that, getting into it career into sustainability, dream big, I mean, there's so many opportunities out there go and hunt for what you want. You know, I, I wish there were so many out there when I was getting into it. And, yeah. And just jump in and have a try. You know, there's so many different angles to sustainability as well. There's, there is moving into sustainable final. If you're already in accounting or management, accounting, there's so many different of ways you can move into because these streams are getting closer and closer and closer together. You know, we're after business as usual, these things need to be so, you know, so closely stacked together that in five years time, we don't know the difference, right?

Marty: (25:38)
It's just business management, how we managing the business to create value in the short, medium and long term. We don't need to be talking about sustainability. It's about wider business management. You know, jump in, get involved, have fun. It's fun. It's a fun space. It's evolving all the time. You know, there's never a, you know, nothing's moved ever so fast in my career. So my life, even in fact how fast the sustainability space for employment and opportunities and just growth and learning and being part of the change and part of the solution. I mean, it's yours for taking,

Margaret: (26:10)
I, love your optimistic views on sustainability, and I'm really glad that you both are working in this space. You're clearly making a difference in champions for sustainability.

Outro: (26:25)
This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast, 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 IMAS website, www dot Ima, net.org.