Breaking the glass ceiling: Advancing female finance leaders

By Leah Giesbrecht
Mar 13, 2017
Photo credit: ismagilov/Thinkstock

Quick, how many female CFOs can you name? If only a few came to mind, that won’t be surprising as worldwide women hold just 18% of CFO roles. In an era where gender equality and gender balance in workplace roles are often cited as company objectives, how can organizations better support and promote female finance leaders? 

In his piece, “Fast-forwarding female finance leaders” John Candeias, states that while Canada has taken proactive steps to support female inclusion in the workplace, such as introducing disclosure practices to encourage gender diversity, more work is necessary – particularly to achieve gender balance in financial leadership roles. For strategies that can help increase the appointments of female finance executives to the CFO position, Candeias identifies three points from EY’s recently published DNA of the CFO report. 

Increased visibility for women leaders who can act as role models

Organizations can identify and promote respected female leaders who, in turn, can share their knowledge with junior employees through conversations on their career journey, knowledge for success, and overcoming challenges. Of the Canadian CFOs surveyed, 81% said greater visibility was needed for women leaders who can act as role models for more junior employees, compared to 62% of the global CFOs who were surveyed.

Sponsorship of women in finance to help them achieve their career ambitions

 Encouraging organizational leaders to sponsor (not mentor) can help women in finance realize their career aspirations. Sponsorship can take the form of advocating for the advancement of female employees, creating exposure, or providing opportunities for them to connect with key personnel. 66% of Canadian CFOs surveyed said this type of sponsorship was needed to help support women in finance, while 53% of global CFOs said this was the case.

Introduction of HR policies that make the finance function more attractive to women

Creating policies around more flexible working arrangements that support women and families can address employee needs and help them achieve work-life balance, while also promoting the finance function. 63% of Canadian CFOs said this strategy would help increase the appointment of female finance executives to the CFO position, compared to 54% of the global CFOs who were surveyed.

Supporting female finance leaders in the accounting profession

Within Canada’s accounting profession, women represent approximately 43% of CPA Canada’s overall membership and more than 50% of accounting graduates entering the profession in the last 20 years. 

To further the advancement of women in the accounting profession, and to support them in attaining leadership roles in finance, CPA Canada’s Women’s Leadership Council was established. The council provides resources and education through initiatives such as conferences, webinars, and resources, including those listed below.


Leah Giesbrecht is a communications coordinator with the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia.