Help! Are women poor in Math and Finance? – Part 2
Last week, we discussed a question from a reader who wants to be called Joshua. Joshua wants to know if men are better than women in math. I replied that boys and girls generally excel in different areas of math in elementary and high school, though more males take math and science majors in college.
Joshua heads a family food business in Luzon. His two brothers feel that their two sisters cannot handle the finances, because they are poor in math. The middle brother is tasked to do it, mainly because he is an engineer. But he is busy with the operations of the business.
Joshua says he is good in math, but does not have the time to handle finances, because he has to concentrate on day-to-day affairs. He wonders if his math-phobic sisters can be trained to do finance, and asks for advice on how to proceed.
Joshua, I am not surprised that your sisters did not do well in math in school. But by your own admission, the math needed for your family business is not complex trigonometry or calculus, but basic finance and accounting. There are numbers in finance and accounting, of course, but these require not so much the integration or differentiation techniques found in calculus, but a mastery of the four fundamental math operations taught in grade school arithmetic, plus an understanding of generally accepted accounting and finance principles.
I am in no way suggesting that finance and accounting are easier or more difficult than calculus. Each subject has its adherents. I know of many math majors who dislike accounting, and many finance people who fear calculus. All I am saying is that these fields are not the same, and in college, calculus and other fields of high math are required for science majors, while finance and accounting are required for business majors.
Just because your middle brother is an engineer does not automatically mean he is the best choice to head your finance department. Has he taken formal courses in finance or accounting? I agree that with his math background, he will not find numbers intimidating (which is probably what your family is thinking), so for you, he is the logical choice.
That is not a bad decision. But if he is needed in operations, I agree that he cannot also take over finance. I suspect he also prefers overseeing operations rather than finance. If he is doing a good job, then do not take him out of that area.
Can your two sisters be trained to handle finance? Of course. You did not say what their college majors were, but I am certain that they did not take a science major. If they took up business, they should at least know the basics of accounting, finance, marketing, human resources. If not, they can always attend seminars on accounting and finance.
I know they dislike math. But they are now more mature. Taking numbers courses now is very different from studying them in grade school. In the past, there was a lot of pressure: pass the subject, get a decent grade, or at least not be the lowest in the class. Now, they can take the courses at their own pace, without the pressure of exams, but with the best of intentions—to learn the most they can in order to benefit the family business.
You also mention that your sisters are overseeing the supply chain, but they are struggling. The simple reason is that supply chain, while not overtly mathematical, requires a logical and disciplined mindset, honed by math. I am not surprised that they find supply chain difficult, and indeed, if they fear numbers or analysis, they may find most parts of the family business difficult to deal with.
Your sisters are in their 30s. If they genuinely feel that it is too late for them to learn finance or supply chain (which is sad), then your only other option is to hire competent professionals. Hopefully, your sisters may be humble or patient enough to be trained by skilled specialists.
Your youngest brother, you say, is spoiled, and spends a lot of time on the computer, so you put him in charge of information technology. I am afraid to ask, but you have to: Does he spend his computer time doing things for the business, such as maintaining your website, using Facebook to update customers, poring over Excel worksheets, answering e-mails or troubleshooting?
Or does he waste company time and resources playing computer games, downloading music files and videos, chatting?
You also say that since you are siblings, you let lapses slide. For the sake of peace, you may prefer to close your eyes to problematic behavior now, but if your goal is to grow your family business, then you have to deal with this problem. Worry not so much about your sisters, but more about your youngest brother.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.) E-mail the author at email@example.com.