According to the “Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners” which was conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit research group sometime in 2002, the number of women Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) in the major companies in the country has been increasing “at a snail’s pace” ( Yoon, 2002). Simply stated, the appointment of women to this position has remained to be a slow process. This finding is validated by the different surveys and studies which have been conducted in recent years.
The first ever female who made it as CFO of a major American company, Judy Lewent, received her appointment from Merck & Company, a major pharmaceutical company, way back in 1990 (Shipman, 2007). However, after five years, only nine other females were able to follow in her footsteps. This figure was shown in the first survey of female CFOs in the Fortune 500 companies which was conducted by the CFO Magazine in 1995. In other words, between 1990 and 1995, only ten of the Fortune 500 companies appointed female CFOs, representing a meager two percent (Stuart, 2006).By 2000, the number of female CFOs in the Fortune 500 companies increased to around 5.6 percent and by 2002, the figure rose to 7.1 percent (Yoon, 2002). This percentage means that as of 2002, only 35 women were able to rise to the position of CFO twelve years after the first female CFO was appointed by Merck.
Their number grew to 38 in 2006 – or an increase of three after four years. By 2007, ten more females were able to make the grade. Unfortunately, the number of female CFOs remained at 38 or 7.6 percent because ten female CFOs also resigned from their positions. In other words, from 2006 up to 2007, there was no net increase in the female CFOs in the country’s major companies (JobsintheMoney News staff, 2008). A simple computation would therefore result to a total of 462 male CFOs in the country’s 500 major companies as opposed to only 38 female CFOs.Some people consider these figures anomalous and indicative of the continued existence of a glass ceiling which prevents women from advancing in the corporate ladder.
Researchers have based their suspicion on the fact that the women sector has proven to be a richer source of talents for the position of CFO than their male counterpart. This is because it was established that during the past decades, females have been outnumbering males in the accounting programs both in the undergraduate as well as the graduate levels. As a matter of fact, the public accounting firms have been hiring more female employees than males. In addition, between 30 and 40 percent of graduates of Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses were women (Stuart, 2006).This finding was validated as early as 1999 when the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor revealed that the country’s workforce in the accounting and auditing areas consisted of 60 percent female (Caplan, 2001).
The existence of a glass ceiling, however, could not be verified. A recent survey of the country’s finance executives showed that 83 percent of the male respondents did not believe in the persistence of a glass ceiling while only 44 percent of the women respondents agreed with them. In other words, 56 percent of the female respondents believed that glass ceiling has been preventing women from becoming CFOs.
The same survey found that all of the respondents believed that women possess the required education and the necessary talents and skills needed by the position. Because of this, the CFO of International Paper, Marianne Parrs, although reluctant to specify glass ceiling, believed that “There’s something going on out there for sure, it’s just not at all clear to me what it is.” The mystery deepens when one considers the fact that the positions which are only a notch lower than the CFO – such as those of controllers, treasurers, or even tax directors – have a 20 percent female occupancy. This condition is a valid basis for the suspicion that something holds back the female executives from advancing further in the corporate ladder (Stuart, 2006).In the face of these inconsistencies, there are several suggestions on how women could rise to the position of CFO. “Leadership, confidence, and communication skills” are among the primary skills and attributes needed for the position. Although both male and female could possess them, it has been asked time and time again whether female candidates could be as tough as their male counterparts. According to the president of a consulting company based in New York (Step Ahead), Lori Demavich, women tend to downplay their qualifications and emphasize their weak points in the usual display of a lack of self-confidence.
Self-confidence is one very important trait observed on women who became successful CFOs (Stuart, 2008).However, according to Elizabeth Acton, the CFO of Comerica, a firm engaged in financial services, women have a communication skill which is usually absent in men. She says that a good CFO does not have to ‘beat the table and yell and scream” so that she could make her department heads cut operational costs.
She emphasized that “Women have particular skills, especially if they have husbands and kids, to manage many balls in the air. They’ve learned how to navigate and push forward.” In other words, Acton believes that their role as a wife and mother gives them a deciding advantage over the men (Krantz, 2004).Women are also advised to see to it that they are known by their superiors especially the members of the board of directors who possess the appointing power. This was experienced by Robyn Denholm who, in spite of being the only internal candidate for the position while still with Sun Microsystems in 2006, did not secure the appointment simply because, according to her, “the board didn’t know me as well as they should have.” However, since she was really qualified for the job, she was later appointed CFO of Juniper Networks which has a net worth of $2.7 billion (Stuart, 2008).
Women aspirants should be prepared to assume a reversed role at home. The CFO of ITT, for instance, said that had her husband not chosen to be a stay-at-home husband, she would not have been able to accept the position. Her job, as it turned out, required the whole family to move from Los Angeles to Denver, Colorado, then later to Louisville, St. Louis and finally, to New York. Their willingness to accept assignments in other places, including overseas, is a primary consideration for the job (Stuart, 2008).Some women CFOs, on the other hand, believe that they owe their advancement to their company’s positive attitude towards women. According to Linda Dimopoulos, the CFO of Darden Restaurants, their company is very willing to break the stranglehold of men of the top positions. This was declared by their incoming CEO, a male African-American, when he said that the practice of their company is “to promote based on skill, not gender or race.
” The same holds true with Southwest Airlines where 37 percent of executive positions are being occupied by women, according to CFO Laura Wright. She even added that Southwest’s positive attitude towards women “could explain why [the company] is so successful” (Krantz, 2004).However, the greatest stumbling to the advancement of women is their domestic role: as wives, mothers, or even daughters. Most of the time the requirement of the job to be posted in other regions or countries comes into conflict with such roles. This dilemma was faced by Lynn Calpeter of General Electric (GE).
An experienced member of the elite Financial Management Program of the company, she was offered the position of CFO of the company’s European plastics division, the same post which was once occupied by their CFO. Calpeter’s problem was her father was suffering from multiple sclerosis and accepting the offer would mean that she would no longer be able to help in taking care of her beloved father. She found that she could not make up her mind until the last moment. She kept asking herself whether to refuse the promotion because of her father would literally “knock her off the fast-track” and would ultimately result to her being passed over for other opportunities. This is only one example of the problem women face in terms of balancing their domestic roles and their careers (Stuart, 2006).After finally deciding in favor of her father, Calpeter was just lucky because the company decided to allow her to continue climbing the corporate ladder. However, she took a much longer route. The company was compassionate enough to offer her a position which did not require her to relocate.
It took another five years before she finally became CFO of National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) which is a major unit of GE. In contrast, if she accepted the position in Europe, her ascent would have been much faster, her route to the top much shorter ((Stuart, 2006).The same decision was resorted to by the present CFO of Citigroup, Sallie Krawcheck more than ten years ago. Feeling that she needed to be a full-time wife and mother, she resigned from her job as an investment banker. However, it only took one year for her to realize that she was not good at such a domestic role so she decided to join Sanford Bernstein as an equity analyst. Fortunately for her, the CEO of Citigroup, Sandy Weill, took notice of her talent and appointed her division head of Citigroup’s Smith Barney division in 2003. A year later, she was appointed CFO.
Owing to her position, however, her husband was forced to work part-time and they hired two babysitters to help in taking care of the children. She said that her brief stint as a stay-at-home mother eased her guilt somehow because she found that she was never good at the job (Stuart, 2006).Nevertheless, the future for women CFOs remain bright, what with the major companies already starting to trust women with the position. Some of these big companies and their women CFOs are the following: Yahoo (Susan Decker); Supervalu (Pamela Knous); Home Depot (Carol Tomé); Marathon Oil (Janet Clark); Verizon (Doreen Toben); and Medco Health Solutions (JoAnn Reed) (Stuart, 2006). Indeed, the success of these women CFOs would pave the way for other Fortune 500 companies to follow their lead.
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