We had a chat with Gillian Fawcett, Founder of Public Finance for Women (PFW), to find out more about the organisation and what we can all do to increase the standing of women within the public and not-for-profit sectors. 

PFW supports organisations and individuals in effectively championing diversity in the sector and provides networking and mentoring opportunities, and guidance on the benefits of a diverse workforce.

We had a chat with Gillian Fawcett, Founder of Public Finance for Women (PFW), to find out more about the organisation and what we can all do to increase the standing of women within the public and not-for-profit sectors. 

PFW supports organisations and individuals in effectively championing diversity in the sector and provides networking and mentoring opportunities, and guidance on the benefits of a diverse workforce.

We had a chat with Gillian Fawcett, Founder of Public Finance for Women (PFW), to find out more about the organisation and what we can all do to increase the standing of women within the public and not-for-profit sectors. 

PFW supports organisations and individuals in effectively championing diversity in the sector and provides networking and mentoring opportunities, and guidance on the benefits of a diverse workforce.

What is Public Finance by Women?

PFW is a new organisation for women working specifically in the field of public finance. This makes it quite distinctive from other women’s finance networks. It’s an organisation with international reach, and its primary objectives are twofold.

Firstly, to advance gender equality in the field of public finance, through responding to new policy announcements and influencing policy development through advocacy.  And secondly, which is equally important, is to support women develop their careers in public finance through the provision of a mentoring programme.

Because we are a start-up organisation this means we are heavily reliant on volunteers and have had to remain focused on delivering one of two initiatives. We’ve primarily targeted our efforts on implementing a mentoring scheme for women and men. This scheme is key in supporting career development, building networks, and equipping people with a diverse set of skills to be effective leaders now and well into the future.

Why did you set up Public Finance by Women?

My answer depends on which day of the week you catch me on to ask this question! I have a lot of experience of working in public financial management, and during this time, I have found it to be a largely male dominated environment. The top jobs were and still are usually held by men. Although the landscape is slowly changing much more needs to be done. I can remember times when I would be the only woman at a meeting and/or the only women speaker on a platform. I can remember being considered ground-breaking when I broke the dress code by wearing trousers – that wasn’t that long ago, and I won’t say which organisation had this rule.

Early in my career there were very few female role models, and those that had reached the heady heights tended to reach the top by adopting stereotypical ‘male’ characteristics. I wanted to change this, and to give something back in support of women working within this field.

When I left the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), I didn’t set out with a grand scheme to create PFW, rather I was seeking a portfolio career. The idea behind PFW came out of a discussion in Spitalfields market with a colleague where we thought; ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had something for women working within public financial management?’. That got the brain cells whirring and a plan emerged.

What challenges did you have when you were setting up Public Finance by Women?

The first set of challenges were – is there demand for the organisation? Would it be supported, and would it be of interest?

To gauge whether it was worthwhile, we consulted with a wide range of bodies and the responses we received were resoundingly positive. Many were surprised that it hadn’t been done before. There were existing networks and organisations for finance and banking, but nothing specifically for public financial management. The consultation also galvanised people into supporting the organisation by promoting it and many joined our international advisory board.

And within the first two years people kept coming out of the woodwork, wanting to support and do things for the organisation. It has to be said that our volunteers are amazing people, who are actively giving their skills and experience back to developing women in public finance without any financial reward. It’s fantastic to see, both women and men giving up their time, expertise, and support. Without them we couldn’t have come this far.

The main challenge now and from the outset has been securing financial support.  In part this is because of the difficult times we are living in, particularly the impact of COVID on small businesses, but also because we are such a niche area. Unlike corporate finance and banking we haven’t got the FTSE 500 to go and knock on the door for funding.  

However, we have been genuinely surprised by the number of people internationally engaging with Public Finance for Women. We have people from 110 countries viewing our website, which is amazing. In my view there is little doubt that additional resources within PFW would enable us to develop and strengthen our networks.

What’s next for Public Finance by Women?

We have just completed our second online international mentoring programme and hosted a celebratory event in December 2021. This year we will be looking to see how we can develop the programme further and make it stronger. The programme was successful – people were engaged and exposed to a different approach to mentoring whereby the emphasis was on listening skills and allowing mentees to undertake their own independent thinking.

Who would you say Public Finance by Women is for?

PFW has a wider reach than just accountancy in public finance. Whilst accountants are an important part, they’re not the only part that contribute to public financial management throughout the world. We have economists, tax experts, anti-fraud and corruption people, internal and external audit. We even reach parliamentarians responsible for budget and oversight.

Primarily PFW is for women as individuals, working in public financial management, to get support and develop their networks. We also want to enable organisations to see the real benefits of paying attention to the career paths and talents of women within them and encourage them to support us.  

If you could give one piece of advice to women who are in or getting into public sector finance, what would it be?

Public finance is a fantastic area to be involved in, particularly if you like to combine policy, finance, and politics. I would advise women early in their careers to take advantage of any available development and training and programmes. Also, to really take advantage of mentoring schemes if they are offered because they serve you well as you develop your career and build professional networks.

What key tips would you give to an organisation who may be looking to champion a more diverse team?

Organisations need to get a grip and review their structures to remove any barriers to gender equality in the workplace, as well as carry out a general health check of the organisation’s culture. Key questions to ask include: ‘Does the culture of the organisation promote a positive environment fostering diversity and inclusion?  ‘Do procedures and processes for recruitment, assessment and promotion ensure fairness and are free of discrimination?’ ‘What actions have been taken to minimise bias?’ Given the pressures on organisations to recruit the best from a finite pool of talent and strong competition in the labour market, a business will suffer if it doesn’t make diversity and inclusion the ‘golden thread’ of the organisation.

Gillian is a senior leader with substantial international experience in the field of public financial management. She has extensive professional networks around the world and is widely known for her leadership skills and strategic thinking in public policy and finance.  During her career she has held the positions of: Head of International, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA); Head of Public Sector, ACCA (the Global Association of Chartered Certified Accountants); Senior Fellow, the Office for Public Management; Head of Policy, the Audit Commission; and Head of Finance of the Scrutiny Unit, House of Commons.

Gillian was a board member of the Confederation of Asian and Pacific Accountants (CAPA) public sector committee for nine years, a former member of Accountancy Europe Public Sector Committee, Specialist advisor on UK public sector audit for two parliamentary select committees, Vice Chair of the Macro Economic Committee, European Centre of Employees & Employers providing public services (CEEP) and Advisor to the Parliamentary Observer, Financial Reporting Accounting Board.

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