Women in Leadership Interview with Virginia Massaro

Interview with Virginia Massaro, Chief Financial Officer at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Question 1. Tell us about your current role and what you enjoy most about it?

I’m currently the Chief Finance Officer at Chelsea and Westminster Trust.  I love being part of the team and being part of an organization that is Energetic and forward thinking and It’s great being part of the leadership team and organization that also challenges me. Every day is different and I never get bored. The Trust is based in West London and is very diverse but there’s a lot more to do to be more representative of our population at all levels of the organisation.

We are doing lots of work around improving equality, diversity and inclusion and some of the programmes we’ve been doing like reverse mentoring, have been really successful and we’ve been rolling that out starting with the Executive Directors.

We’ve also got well established staff networks, so we have a women’s network, a BAME Network, LGBTQ+ network and a newly formed disability network.  These networks are safe and inclusive places for staff to have a voice and to use people’s experiences and feedback really on how to how we can improve that.

Question 2. Can you describe your career story?

I started on the NHS graduate management training scheme back in 2004, based in the Hillingdon area in North West London and worked across the Hospital and PCT as it was then, as well as doing some work at Parkhill audit.

When I finished the scheme, I went to work at Ealing Hospital in Costing and Service Line Reporting, and then I’ve been at Chelsea and Westminster since 2010, starting as Head of Financial Planning, before becoming Assistant Director of Finance, Deputy Director of Finance and then Chief Finance Officer two years ago.

My roles leading up to the CFO have been somewhat non-traditional for a CFO, I’ve never really done a senior management or financial accounts role, as my background is in costing and income.

Question 3. Were there any role models who gave you a sense of what it is to be a leader or helped you on your journey?

Yes, I have been fortunate to have some amazing role models and I have been lucky to work for 2 very inspirational female CFOs at Chelsea and Westminster and an amazing female Chief Executive and I have learnt a lot from them all.   Females are under-represented in CFO roles, although this has significantly improved over the last few years, so I’m very grateful to have such great role models within my organisation.

One of the challenges coming into the role is that I’m quite different from my role models in terms of personality and part of the development in my career has been learning how to do my job in my own way rather than trying to emulate someone else. You kind of have to learn from others but remain true and authentic to who you are.

Question 4. What barriers have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

I think most barriers I’ve felt have probably been self-imposed, I wouldn’t say anyone has put any barriers in my way and actually I have been very fortunate that people have always been very supportive. For me, the main barriers have been about being confident. In the past, I always thought you needed to know everything to be the CFO, I’ve learned that that’s not case and it is part of constantly developing and learning.

Obviously, confidence isn’t just a female thing, and it’s easy to fall into generalizations, but research does show men are more likely to apply for a job when they can do 70% and for women that’s closer to 100%.

I think one of the really powerful things is actually to ask for feedback and I recall being asked for feedback after a meeting once and I was so taken aback that a senior person had asked me, but it really was very powerful and made me realize actually they’re open to learning and improving.

Question 5. How have you balanced the competing needs of a modern leadership role?

I think this is a constant challenge because you could work for 24 hours a day and never get to the bottom of the To Do List and that’s not realistic or doable.  To manage this, I have to prioritize my work and meetings by really working out what’s important and what’s not. I’m also lucky that I have a great team that allows me to share out the work.

I try to free up time to do the things that are important and make sure that my diary doesn’t just become completely full but actually making sure I have control over it and remain realistic. I had to learn to be a bit less of a perfectionist, which is quite hard!

Question 6. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, if you could change one thing to help achieve that objective what would it be?

I think the key thing for me is what I mentioned before, it’s around breaking that perception of what a Senior Finance person should be.  There is a preconception that the only way to be a CFO is a more traditional image of someone who would come in, bang the table, shout, tell people off and say no.  It took a while for me to realize that there’s lots of different ways to do any job and that senior finance leaders come in all forms and that’s part of the joy of working in a diverse healthcare systems.  So I think for me, breaking the biases is about changing those attitudes about what a Finance leader is.

Question 7. What advice would you give to finance staff in furthering their careers and becoming leaders?

People quite often feel like they have to have a linear defined career path. I’ve never done that. I’ve taken jobs that I think will be interesting and that I think I will enjoy. I think you’d be better at your job if you enjoy your job, and it’s so important, you spend a lot of time doing it, so just enjoy it as well as doing something that supports your career and I think then you will flourish.

Question 8. What do you enjoy doing outside of the working week?

I love to socialize, spending time with friends, family. I also like to go to the theatre and going out for dinner. I would love to say I like doing lots of exercise, but that’s not quite true, although I really like going out for hike. Sometimes, especially when you’re indoors all day in office, it’s nice to get out and go get some fresh air, especially in the world of virtual meetings , you can be on a screen nearly all day long, it’s so important to try get out for a 5 minute walk to refresh the mind.