What would my acceptance speech have been?

Last week Women in Finance had their inaugural awards dinner in Sydney. I was a finalist in the CFO category, which was exciting enough in itself. A black tie gala dinner based on the Oscars made it a night to remember.

I didn’t win my category. Being nominated is enough.

If I had won, I needed to make an acceptance speech. Only one winner wrote one beforehand — coming up on stage with a pre written speech got a few comments from the MC. It was Wendy Harmer, so all very entertaining.

What would I have said, if I had won?

It was something I gave some thought to before hand, without dwelling on. I’ve done a lot of speaking and am pretty good at “winging it”. Sometimes too much preparation can put you in the wrong mindset. It can stop you from enjoying the moment. I know — very bizarre advice from a CFO!

For any successful person in life, there’s an army of people who helped make that happen. To try and thank them all would have taken far too long. No one is an island, this is always a team effort.

How about the rest of it? Given we had 60 seconds to answer, what else could I say that’s useful and memorable in that moment.

To put this in context, in 2010 I left corporate and became an independent consultant. A health issue was behind that choice. At that time, I thought I was walking away from a career I’d invested 20 years into.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I doubt I would have been on the finalist list if I’d remained an employee in corporate.

Most of the speech I had in mind was how that very different path contributed to winning the award. That would have taken more than 60 seconds (and the extended version is below) which meant I would have got the hurry up music. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t win!

There were two things.

The first was about taking the path less traveled. I’ve lost count the number of women (and men) I’ve met in corporate who feel “stuck” and “trapped” by the system. By that I mean the traditional corporate ladder.

I’ve not felt that way for years. Everyone told me how “brave” I was at the time. The reality was to stay within the system was something my health wouldn’t tolerate. Necessity is a wonderful thing.

The second was to make the most of everything I was born with. That includes being a woman.

How does that work?

As a CFO, there’s a few things I was born or raised with, honed by a world class education, that have nothing to do with gender.

The first one is a photographic memory of numbers.

Once I get to know your business, I can tell the story of your business, using numbers as my language. It’s the language that makes sense to most people who need to interact with your business. That’s especially true in financial services.

I also look after other people’s money. That means being trustworthy. That can only come from character, and is agnostic of gender.

So where does being a woman come in?

From a marketing viewpoint, in a very male world it’s not hard to stand out. Being memorable helps, especially in the early days.

For the last 7 years I’ve worked with early stage ventures. Some of that’s to raise capital. Some of that’s to figure out how to deploy that capital to build a successful business. It’s all about the ROI the investors (and founder) are looking for.

I do this for several clients at once. An ability to multi task is helpful. While it’s a generalisation there is evidence this is a female trait.

Between the founders, and the investors, there are a lot of emotions flying around. Building a business is a roller coaster, that is true for either gender.

To be effective, I need to be the calm, level headed one in the midst of all that. It’s very personal, and it’s very relational.

Of course men can do that. They’ve been doing it for centuries. The method by which I do it comes from my feminine side. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just different. It is an essential part of my toolkit on what makes me effective.

Being nominated has come from being authentically me. All of me. That includes being a woman. It is part of my success. I look forward to the day that’s normal, which is the reason I’m sharing this story.