Calpeter, for her part, managed to continue her career ascent. After she refused the job, GE offered her a role closer to home, as CFO of NBC’s Television Stations division. Two years later, Sherin, one of Calpeter’s mentors, appointed her to head GE’s Corporate Audit Staff (CAS). In 2003, at age 39, she was promoted to CFO of NBC, which in 2004 became one of GE’s six major business units following its merger with Universal.
While most of Calpeter’s bosses have been men, GE has become much more diverse in the past decade, she says. Two of the 5 CFOs at other GE businesses, Kathryn McCarthy at GE Healthcare and Maive Scully at GE Consumer Finance, are women, as are 6 of NBC Universal’s 14 operating CFOs who report to Calpeter: Patti Hutton for Universal Studios, Tracie Winbigler for the NBC Television Group and Digital Media, Catherine Dunleavy for USA Network and the Sci Fi Channel, Lois Nix for Sports and Olympics, Christy Rupert-Shibata for CNBC, and Diane Klein for NBC Entertainment. Like Calpeter, many of them graduated from FMP and its follow-on, CAS. “My generation is the first group of women to really make it to the upper levels,” says Calpeter, thanks in large part to the support of senior leaders like Sherin, vice chairman and former CFO Dennis Dammerman, and “a better environment” for women.
Other women can claim similar successes. Besides Krawcheck, women CFOs at Fortune 50 companies include Carol Tomé at Home Depot, Doreen Toben at Verizon, Janet Clark at Marathon Oil, and JoAnn Reed at Medco Health Solutions. None of these companies fits the image of a “female-oriented” corporation. Nor does Yahoo, whose CFO, Susan Decker, oversaw the company’s major foray into China and cashed in $30 million worth of options last year. Meanwhile, Pamela Knous, CFO of Supervalu, is currently brokering a $17.4 billion merger with Albertson’s, the largest deal ever in grocery-industry history.
Breaking into this elite group, however, takes stamina. In recent years, regulatory pressures and the pace of global commerce have only increased the challenges of the CFO job. In addition, explains Michele Heid, a senior partner, financial officers practice lead, for executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles International, “Most companies want someone who has been a CFO before, which makes it harder for both men and women to get in.”
In the Fortune 500, most of the female CFOs have either served as CFOs at other companies or moved up within their own companies. Verizon’s Toben began in AT&T’s treasury department in 1983, and Applied Materials’s Nancy Handel spent 19 years in various roles at the semiconductor company, including treasurer, before winning the CFO title in 2004. Office Depot CFO Patricia McKay, CDW’s Barbara Klein, E. Follin Smith at Constellation Energy Group, and M. Michele Burns at Marsh & McLennan all reached CFO at other large companies before attaining their current jobs.
But beyond the innate odds against winning a scarce CFO slot, women may be handicapped by the fact that most candidates for these slots are chosen by men, who make up 98 percent of CEOs and 85 percent of board members. This behavior may not reflect sexism per se as much as a desire for familiarity. “Men offer jobs to people who look like them,” says Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives.