Women CFOs: Respect, Just a Little Bit

A census of women corporate officers and top earners shows a slow but steady increase in the percentage of women CFOs.

Women CFOs are increasing their ranks — albeit at a snail’s pace. That’s according to this year’s Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners by non-profit research group Catalyst.

In 2002, 7.1 percent of the 496 CFOs at America’s 500 largest companies were women, compared with 5.6 percent in 2000, the last time the biannual survey was conducted.

Overall, women make up 15.7 percent of senior officers, up from 12.5 percent in 2000. In 1995, when New York-based Catalyst began counting, the figure was 8.7 percent. Altogether, 2,140 out of 13,673 corporate officers are women. That’s up from 1,622 out of 12,495 women in 2000.

There’s no question that women in corporate America have come a long way in gaining respect since Aretha Franklin spelled out the word in the 1967 hit. In those early days of women’s lib, “Respect” became an anthem for women everywhere. But for some, the seemingly paltry percentage of women leaders today may bring wry, ironic recollections of that song’s background line: “just a little bit.”

“We can’t say it’s satisfying,” admits Kara Helander, vice president of Catalyst’s western region. “But women are making slow but steady progress.” What’s especially encouraging about the gains reported this year is that they came during a weakening economy. Historically, women and minorities have been hit harder than men in economic downturns, she explains.

Other findings in the census include an increase in women holding titles with clout, from 7.3 percent in 2000 to 9.9 percent this year. Catalyst defines clout titles as those positions that wield the most corporate influence and policy-making power including chairman, chief executive officer, vice chairman, president, chief operating officer, senior executive vice president, executive vice president, and CFO.

In fact, increased interest in research on women in finance led Catalyst to report data on senior finance positions separately for the first time this year. Previously, says Helander, CFO data was lumped together with senior officers overall. The census also reported its first separate numbers on another position often linked to the finance department as a direct report to the CFO: general counsels. In 2002, women held 16.1 percent of the 453 general counsel positions, says the survey, compared to 13.7 percent in 2000.

Despite these advances, an unfortunate pay disparity persists between the sexes. Nearly 95 percent or 2,141 of the top earning corporate officers in the Fortune 500 are men, compared with only 5 percent or 118 who are women. Nevertheless, this represents an increase from 1996 when just 1.9 percent of the top corporate earners were women.

CFOs on the Move

Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. promoted CFO Thomas Patrick to executive vice chairman. Patrick, CFO since 2000, joined Merrill in 1978 and also served as CFO from 1989 to 1990. He will now oversee the CFO and head the tax, research, global technology and services, communications, marketing, and human resources departments. He was a key engineer of Merrill’s restructuring under CEO E. Stanley O’Neal included 18,600 job cuts. Ahmass Fakahany will replace Patrick as CFO. Fakahany was COO of the global markets and investment banking business since 2001. He joined Merrill in 1987 and at one time served as CFO of the brokerage’s Asian operations … DeVaughn Searson resigned as CFO of MTS Inc., dba Tower Records, saying it was “time to move on” after 11 years with the music retailer. The company promoted corporate treasurer Jim Bain, replacing Searson as CFO. Former KPMG LLP audit manager Becky Roedell was named VP of finance…

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