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Here's why firms across sectors are hiring women in key finance leadership roles

Search firm executives said the trend is escalating outside of banks and financial institutions, several of which have women in succession roles.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Jul 25, 2016, 09.15 AM IST
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Coca-Cola’s Sethi, who has been with the beverage firm for eight years now, is now the only woman in its leadership team, as VP – finance.
Coca-Cola’s Sethi, who has been with the beverage firm for eight years now, is now the only woman in its leadership team, as VP – finance.
NEW DELHI: Are women better to trust your money with? Well, an increasing number of companies seem to think so, going by a recent spurt in women taking over key finance roles in firms across sectors.

When Coca-Cola announced Sarvita Sethi as its first woman finance head last week, it reinforced a new trend among big corporations including Hindustan Unilever, PepsiCo, Puma, Aditya Birla Group, Vedanta, Castrol and EMC.

"There is an ask now for women at top financial jobs,” said Uday Chawla, managing partner at executive search firm Transearch India. He said that over the last few years his company for the first time has had mandates from multinationals preferring women candidates for finance roles at the CXO level.

Why? Diversity is a critical focus area among global firms across sectors, which have often in the past been criticised for not hiring or promoting enough women at board levels.

"Women leaders bring diversity of thought and approach which helps to embrace new ways of working,” said PB Balaji, executive director for finance at consumer goods giant Hindustan Unilever that has three women in key finance leadership roles.
Here's why firms across sectors are hiring women in key finance leadership roles

Search firm executives said the trend is escalating outside of banks and financial institutions, several of which have women in succession roles.

"This is new not only for India but even the US. Earlier the hiring for CXO finance roles favoured men. But now the hiring is more on competence and not on gender,” said Chawla of Transearch.

K Sudarshan, regional managing partner for Asia at executive search firm EMA Partners, said the number of women in key finance roles is still low. "There is a dearth of women in finance. Most of the demand from companies is due to diversity focus,” he said.

Diversity is clearly a key result area now for companies.

Coca-Cola’s Sethi, who has been with the beverage firm for eight years now, is now the only woman in its leadership team, as VP – finance. "Sarvita’s credentials in finance position her well to lead the function across South Asia and India,” said Venkatesh Kini, president at Coca-Cola India & South West Asia.

Mid last year, Aditya Birla group company Aditya Birla Nuvo named Pinky Mehta as its chief financial officer. Around the same time, Rashmi Mohanty was named as head of group treasury in Vedanta Resources Plc.

In 2011, when HUL had poached Geetu Verma from PepsiCo to head its food division as executive director she was only the second woman in its leadership management.

Balaji of HUL said the three women handling key finance roles in the company are doing well in diverse roles. "They drive superlative performance, pioneer thought leadership and in turn develop future talent,” he said.

All three are HUL veterans. Asha Gopalakrishnan, general manager, finance, for supply chain in South Asia, had joined the company as management trainee in 1996 and worked across category accounting, planning, logistics and buying before her current role. Suman Hegde, who heads finance for the home care business in South Asia, joined HUL in 2003 and rose through the ranks. Vidya Venkatram, who heads M&A and treasury, has over 12 years done stints across accounting, managing buying and critical projects.

Other women heading the finance department in big companies include Srikripa Srinivasan, senior director for finance at EMC Data Storage Systems, Vidhya Srinivasan, chief financial officer at footwear maker Puma, and Rashmi Joshi, director, finance at lubricants firm Castrol.

Other names include Sandhya Sriram, global head of finance, consumer business unit at Wipro, Charu Mittal, finance director at advisory firm Korn Ferry, and Sangeeta Sumesh, CFO at Dun & Bradstreet Technologies.

Beverage and snacks maker PepsiCo’s Kimsuka Narasimhan is among the rare women leaders within consumer goods to head a finance function for over seven years. Led by global chief Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo has always had a wide representation of women in cross-function leadership roles.

Recruitment experts, however, said that sectors that require intense lobbying and interactions with governments continue to prefer men in top finance roles.

R Suresh, managing director at RGF Executive Search, said demand for women leaders in finance is primarily from companies that do not operate in "rent-seeking sectors”. "This is more seen in sectors such as consumer, IT, BPO, R&D, healthcare,” he said.
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