While the career paths of McKay and Parrs are similar to those taken by men, many of the women who have made it — including Krawcheck, Tomé, Clark, Reed, Decker, Safra Catz at Oracle, and Kimberly Allen Dang at Kinder Morgan Management — have not followed traditional routes. They began as analysts or bankers, jobs that gave them broad exposure to different companies and departments. American Electric Power CFO Susan Tomasky and Jean Blackwell at Cummins started as lawyers.
It is clear that making it to CFO — and beyond — takes a special determination. “Women who are seriously interested in being CEOs can’t stay in finance their whole careers,” says Klein, “and they’ve got to fight for those [outside] roles.” To facilitate the process, Klein, along with the company’s general counsel and vice president of marketing (both women), recently started a companywide network of senior women to help develop women as leaders. “It’s important for us to help them move around,” says Klein, who has worked at more than five companies in her quest to get a broad range of experiences. Similar networks exist at companies like IBM, Intel, and Fortune Brands.
Men Behaving Nicely
Despite the small numbers, many women claim they have never felt stigmatized by gender. “Being a female has had no impact on my career at all,” says Reed, adding that more than half of her direct reports are women. “I don’t think gender is an important factor.”
Some women would argue that point. One-third of women in finance believe they have been denied a promotion in the past five years at least partly because of gender, according to CFO’s survey. Even companies that have worked hard to promote equality report that it is a slow slog. At GE/NBC Universal, Calpeter notes that the number of women in finance drops from about 45 percent at the entry level to the “high teens” in senior roles.
It’s not just the CEO who presents a barrier, either. Finance departments tend to be largely male, which colors the environment. Although Marathon Oil CFO Janet Clark says she doesn’t feel “held back” by gender, the frequent sports discussions leave her a bit cold. And the double standard hasn’t altogether disappeared. “Where a man might be considered assertive, a woman is pushy,” Clark points out. Ovation Products Corp. CFO Christine Cox agrees. “You get incredible pushback as CFO,” she says, “and it takes a lot of endurance to maintain a strong presence over time.”
But anyone eager to subscribe to a corporate conspiracy against women will be disappointed. Men apparently have a fairly rosy view of what women can do. Most who responded to CFO’s survey — 62 percent — don’t think women are at a disadvantage in any areas relevant to becoming CFO. Only 2 percent believe women lack the financial skills to become CFO, and few think they are less able to negotiate, gain the trust of the CEO, or communicate with the board.