Fifteen years ago Caroline Thomas’ IR Magazine cover story declared the investor relations profession a ‘breakthrough for women’. The success of women in IR versus other areas of business – such as CEO roles or on the board – was in large part put down to the fact that ‘the profession was finding its feet in the business world just when women were finding theirs,’ wrote Thomas in Cracks in the ceiling. ‘IR was a new industry without ingrained stereotypes or networks, thus enabling women to be part of its foundation.’
IR Magazine September 2003:
And Margaret Eichman, who rose from the IR post to become vice president of corporate affairs at food company Quaker and who is now an independent communications consultant following 23 years at the firm, agreed. ‘As IR developed, it coincided with a time when there were many women with finance and communications skills who were ready to fill these new roles,’ she said at the time. ‘It gave women a new opportunity to build a career for themselves.’
Thomas also looked at IR from the perspective of a stepping stone to higher-level finance roles and examined some of the possible reasons so few women cracked the ceiling above IRO level. Monika Steinlechner, then head of investor relations at South African telecoms company MTN and who left the firm in March this year, suggested avoiding being penned into a certain area of business by insisting on broader responsibilities.
‘There can be a glass ceiling for women IROs if IR is your sole function in the company,’ she explained. It’s still seen as a soft skill because you’re not actively involved in the strategy. For me, seeing this glass ceiling, I made sure I had some sort of technical or operational function. So I’m responsible for IR, but my main responsibility is head of corporate finance.’
Then there was the new pool of women waiting to take their seat at the table. Janet Craig, then director of investor relations at Canadian design and manufacturing company ATI and now founding partner at Endeavour IR and a strong voice on women in IR, noted in 2003 that: ‘If you look at the average age of CEOs, they’re in their late 40s, 50s or 60s. So maybe we’re just getting to the point where women have been in the job market long enough to get to senior positions.’
The years since have seen IR become a more strategic role in general and, of course, a number of those men in the top jobs have moved on. Organizations like the 30% Club as well as governments have pushed for greater gender diversity at the top levels of business. But while women have consistently made up around half of all IR roles, research by IR Magazine has shown in the past that women are also paid less than their male counterparts and are far less likely to hold the most senior IR roles.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of incredibly successful women in IR – Craig being one of them. In an opinion piece for IR Magazine last year, she continued her conversation from 15 years ago, writing about the slow changes continuing to take place in the profession and in finance roles in general.
While Craig notes in the 2017 article that statistics revealed by IR Magazine are ‘depressing’, she points out that ‘[change is] happening for a few reasons, including that the first generation of women who have had the opportunity to work toward senior executive level are coming of age, there is a real focus on mentoring and leading women in the workplace, and investors are increasingly looking at diversity – and not just gender diversity – as a key metric to measure companies on.’
Craig adds that in many companies, corporate functions like finance, legal, human resources, communications and so on have in some cases a higher percentage of women than men, but women still do not gain the top job.
‘So why is it that women perennially come up short? I think we could all throw up a myriad reasons why, and I have many theories on this,’ she writes. ‘What I do know, however, is that this is the responsibility of both men and women, and the responsibility for all of us in the investor relations community to actively think about, engage in and change.’
As IR Magazine builds up to its 30th anniversary issue – the upcoming winter 2018 issue, which will be the 279th edition of the industry’s flagship magazine – we’ll be posting throwbacks to old covers, revisiting some of the hot topics from the past 30 years of investor relations and hearing from some of the industry titans.