The CFOs Leading the Diversity Agenda

By Nicole Madigan

As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic stabilises, there is a new focus emerging among business leaders.

Diversity is fast becoming a key priority across all sectors, and finance is no exception.

While the concept of inclusivity isn’t new, the focus has shifted, from overall organisational diversity, to the establishment of diverse leadership teams and boardrooms.

“A plethora of research says that diverse teams make better decisions,” says Darius Coveney, CFO at Fluent Commerce.

“Unless you can look at an issue from multiple points of view, it’s hard to consider all the angles before making a decision, and the best way to add more points of view is to bring together teams with a range of experiences, backgrounds, and upbringings.”

But Mr Coveney argues that diversity in leadership roles is equally, if not more, important that diversity in broader teams.

“To do and be their best, people need role models, to inspire them, to show them what good looks like, to spur them on.

“Role models need to be relatable to be most effective, and relatability comes from seeing people who looks like us, who have had similar experiences to us, people we can see ourselves in.

“So, unless we have diversity in senior roles, we are not going to be able to inspire others from all walks of life within our organisations.”

But increasing diversity is easier said than done, particularly in traditionally male dominated industries. Real action is required to effect real change.

“Being in technology, diversity can be hard as the graduate pool tends to be more homogenous than we would like,” says Mr Coveney.

“At Fluent we are focussed on bringing talent from alternative pools in order to improve diversity, not just looking at male/female ratios, but also international versus local backgrounds, different education backgrounds etc.”

As the importance of diversity becomes more widely understood, accepted and embraced, increasing numbers of organisations are making diversity programs part of their permanent business model.

Healthcare group, Sanofi, has taken diversity progress to the next level, implementing a number of dedicated, employee-lead working groups, focused on the areas on gender, generational, LGBTQI+, cultural, and accessibility equity.

Chief Financial Officer, Yogita Nath, is the executive sponsor of the organisation’s Accessibility Working Group.

“While we’ve certainly examined the shape and diversity of our business to understand gaps, we’ve also taken a bottom-up approach, where we’ve listened to our people and learned from their personal experiences, both at work in their personal lives,” says Ms Nath.

“We now have a number of successful employee lead working groups, and while each group has an executive sponsor to provide support and coaching as needed, it’s our people’s passions and insights that drive each forward.”

Ms Nath supported the Accessibility Working Group in developing Sanofi’s first Accessibility Inclusion Plan, resulting in Sanofi being the first in its industry to lodge a plan with Australia’s Human Rights Commission.

“While I have been able to bring my own corporate experience to the table to support the Group, it was their collective insights and personal experiences that resulted in Sanofi being the first in our industry to lodge our Plan with Australia’s Human Rights Commission.”

At fintech startup Amaka, diversity measures now form part of the standard recruitment process, encompassing not only race, gender and sexual orientation, but also broader cultures and subcultures, such as hobbies, political orientations, and personal interests.

Amaka CFO, Martin Chee, says while factors such as gender, race and sexual orientation do not determine ability – the assessment of which remains a key part of the recruitment process – cultural and diversity considerations also play an critical role.

“We assess culture fit and diversity as a distinct part of the recruitment process, and during this phase we consider the benefits that person might bring to our organisation from a diversity perspective.”

Mr Chee says research on diversity is becoming clearer, with literature pointing to organisations that rate well in diversity metrics, outperforming those that don’t.

“I think we’ll inevitably move to a stage where organisations have to accept diversity if they want to remain relevant and competitive,” says Mr Chee.

It stands to reason that diversity directly impacts profits, says Marley Spoon CFO, Jennifer Bernstein, as having a team that reflects its customers can only improve its ability to make valuable connections.

“Without the voices of all communities and groups, we begin to lose perspective of who we are and who we are serving,”

Jennifer Bernstein, CFO | Marley Spoon

“Being a food delivery business, we aim to provide a menu and service that can cater to as many people as possible. Our team is incredibly diverse, and their opinions on what we do and how we work are vital to ensuring we’re serving the customer in the best possible way.”

Ms Nath agrees, and says she believes diverse and inclusive businesses exhibit both increased profitability and creativity, along with better problem solving abilities.

“Building a working environment where we can hear and learn from a diverse range of voices, and welcome diverse points of view always makes good business sense, but it’s even more pronounced during challenging periods,” she says.

“Locally, our business has been proud to stand at the forefront of programs that break down gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic, or accessibility bias over recent years and now we’re moving ahead with important work related to cultural and indigenous inclusion.

“Today, our people tell us that they feel welcomed for who and what they bring to the table, and that allows them to be themselves and bring their best voice to every working conversation.

“As a woman of colour and the Chief Financial Officer, I have to say that’s music to my ears.”


Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist, having written for numerous high profile publications including AFR, The CFO Magazine, The Courier Mail, The Australian, Sunday Life, The Sunday Mail, as well as online publications, such as news.com.au, Domain, The SMH, Brisbane Times, among others.