In fact, the one disadvantage men attribute to women is one with which women agree: 25 percent of both male and female respondents think women are unwilling to sacrifice their personal lives for work. “The question these days is, Who is willing to be a workaholic?” says Bob Loveman, CEO of wealth-management firm Brownson, Rehmus & Foxworth, and the husband of former Beatrice Foods treasurer Gail Loveman. “Typically, the answer is men, and single women under a certain age who are trying to build up enough money before bailing out.”
In practice, women say they work almost as many hours per week as their male counterparts — 50.7 hours on average, as compared with 53.4 for men. Meanwhile, examples of dedication abound. One rising controller actually rescheduled her wedding three times because of her work.
What feeds the perception that women work less, says Sylvia Hewlett, director of the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP), is that “most women don’t follow a lockstep, linear career path like men.” Nearly 40 percent of highly qualified women take a year or two off during their careers, according to research by CWLP, while many others look for reduced responsibilities or flexible arrangements in order to meet multiple demands. In CFO’s survey, nearly twice as many women as men said flexible hours and remote work opportunities were important to them.
Obviously, child-rearing plays a huge role. Diane Price Baker left her job as CFO of The New York Times Co. in 1999 when she became pregnant with twins two years after adopting her first child at age 43. She felt that “if having kids was important, it was time to focus on that,” she says. Baker had no trouble finding another CFO job when her children started school, but she left it a year later. “The hours eat you alive,” she says of the combination of overseeing the finances of a French-owned Atari subsidiary and three small children. She is now looking for a position as a turnaround expert or a private-equity partner where she can have a strategic role “but not be stuck writing checks every day.”
Even past child-rearing years, women tend to factor in other priorities when making choices about their jobs. Leara L. Dory, vice president of accounting, treasurer, and controller for a $900 million division of Emcor Group, passed up an opportunity to be considered for the divisional CFO slot in 2004 for fear that she would have to work more than her typical 12-hour day. Although her only son has left the nest, she still wants time to spend with her husband of 19 years. “I knew I could do the job,” Dory says, “but my main issue was to balance work and life.”
Sometimes the search for a better balance has little to do with family and more to do with exploring career options beyond finance. Edwina Woodbury, 54, left Avon in December 1998, and bought a vanity press in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which she now runs. Gail Lieberman, former CFO of Thomson Corp.’s Professional and Publishing Group, resigned to start a consulting and investment business in 2001, because “I really wanted to try something different, and I could afford it,” she says. Others have taken on board seats and become audit-committee chairs, including former Barnes & Noble CFO Irene Miller; Blythe McGarvie, former CFO of Hannaford Brothers and BIC Group; Debra Smithart-Oglesby, former CFO of Brinker International; and former RR Donnelley CFO Cheryl Francis.