Many female finance professionals experience a lack of gender diversity in the workplace. According to Oliver Wyman analysis, on average executive teams are 20% women, with only 17% of finance executives being female. To dive deeper into this topic, we connected with finance expert and CFO of Phonexa, Mara Garcia. In this article, she shares the importance of diversity in finance and fintech, leadership insights, and what it is like being a female CFO.
Tell us about your leadership journey. What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?
I have a background in public accounting, auditing, and consulting. I started with bookkeeping projects and progressed to auditing; learning the best practices for bookkeeping made me a better auditor because I knew how mistakes happen when you oversee the day-to-day and monthly transactions. I was an auditor in public accounting for seven years before being offered the role of VP of Finance and Accounting at Phonexa.
I did not know exactly where the role would take me, but I took the chance. I knew from my experience that accountants can be focused on balancing the books, numbers, and income statements. While attention to detail is necessary, it does not always translate into actionable insights for decision-making. Executive teams need to know what financial information implies for operations and the direction of the business. That is where I come in to serve as a bridge to translate what daily transactions mean for the future of the business.
As the CFO, I drive our finance operations and work alongside other department leaders to ensure our processes make sense strategically. On my leadership journey, I am most proud to have excelled at mastering the ability to translate data into insights that everyone in the organization can easily understand.
How has being a woman impacted your journey? Have you taken any risks in your career?
Yes, I took a risk when I switched industries to move from public accounting and auditing to go into tech. Although I am still in finance, I would say I only do about 30% of finance work, and the rest is tech-related. Where I was before, I knew what the next steps looked like, but I chose to take a different path. To be successful, I assumed ownership of my expertise and applied my skills to my new environment to make an impact.
In terms of my journey, I would say I am naturally an introvert, so combining that with also being a woman, it can feel like you are starting from behind the line. This is why it is important to speak up in your role and become comfortable working with other executives and VPs so you can be the best leader for your teams. In my leadership style, I do not focus on the corporate hierarchy. I emphasize to my team that I am reviewing their work from a different perspective, so I encourage input and feedback. Whenever I question something, that does not mean I am automatically right. I want them to explain to me their rationale so we can learn from each other. As the CFO, I look at the bigger picture so to resolve any disconnect, my go-to is always dialogue. There is a lot of collaboration and teamwork on my team.
Can you speak to the importance of having female representation in finance and tech?
Phonexa has doubled down on its support for female representation in finance and tech with the launch of LinkUnite, an invite-only women’s forum and retreat for female leaders in director or higher positions in digital marketing and technology. The inaugural event will take place this April 10-13th in Scottsdale, Arizona. Phonexa will use LinkUnite as a platform to celebrate female brilliance and focus on the faces and stories behind each attendee, all while reimagining the full female potential in our workspace. Phonexa is an all-in-one marketing automation solution for calls, leads, clicks, email, SMS, accounting, and more. The “more” could not be more evident than LinkUnite and the female-focused, community-building platform it offers.
We are in the tech industry and our team is mostly women, which is rare. As the team grew, it just worked out that way organically. I think as women, in life, we have a different intuition or perspective than men, this translates into business. For us, we see beyond the black and white of a situation and look for the story to help us solve problems. Having a diverse team, we benefit from better communication and quicker problem-solving. At times in business, people can be more focused on being right rather than the problem at hand. Whereas at our company, our dialogue is open and productive. We also focus on how we can support men and women both in terms of work-life balance. The career trajectory for women in finance can be impacted by their decision to have children and be primary caretakers. Having so many women on our teams, we understand this and create programs that support all parents. It is a win-win, we can maintain productivity, and our team members can better support their families.
What would you tell women in finance who aspire to be in leadership and what advice would you give on closing the gender gap in finance?
- If you have a talent, don’t be afraid to ask for the opportunity.
Accounting is the language of the business that not everyone understands. If you know that you have the talent to provide value, step up and be confident in your skills.
- Be humble and receptive to feedback
There is a delicate balance between what you know and being comfortable with not knowing everything. Of course, there will be times when you are saving the day and others when your idea isn’t the best. Either way, you have to accept that and be open to learning from others.
- Business leaders must make career advancement accessible
Create more flexibility for women and parents in general. Be open to considering women who may have a career gap due to family obligations. Sometimes companies need to look beyond resumes and numbers to avoid missing out on talented people.