What Women Want

In finance, the operative words are opportunity, flexibility, and balance.

A Matter of Choice

So what does the future hold? For women and men, perhaps the most encouraging trend is the increased interest in flextime. Federal Signal recently tailored a half-time schedule for its assistant controller in order to accommodate her return from maternity leave. “If I can keep women through the early stages of raising their children, that’s a huge win,” says Kushner. Other companies are taking more-formal approaches. Marathon Oil rolled out a program in January that allows employees to take a day off if they work 80 hours in nine days.

NBC Universal is formalizing opportunities that have long existed on an ad hoc basis. Karen Seminara, director of sales finance for NBC-owned and -operated TV stations, says she “piloted” the idea of flextime about seven years ago, when she asked to work part-time while completing her MBA. She had little trouble making a similar arrangement with managers after the birth of her first child four years ago. Together, they agreed she would work 30 hours over a three-day week, and promoted others in her group to give them more authority.

“It’s worked fabulously,” says Seminara, who repeated the arrangement following the birth of her second child. “The company continues to find me opportunities.” And even though she knows that she has compromised the pace of her career advancement, she says, “I’m completely at peace with that. My life works.”

Of course, flexibility on the home front helps. “If my husband had not decided to stay home, I would not be in this position,” says Kushner, whose children are now 18 and 22. The number of stay-at-home dads is still tiny, but increased by more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2004, according to analysis of census data on RebelDad.com, one of many emerging blogs for this community. “I’m not sure what you do if you don’t have reliable child care, since you’ve got to know that if you need to stay two hours late, you can,” says Parrs, who had a “fantastic housekeeper” to cook, clean, and watch her three children when they were young. Still, Parrs warns, “you always feel guilty.”

But that’s only one price women pay for being on the finance fast track. “People talk about having it all, and I always want to tell them I don’t. What I have are two things that are very important to me: my children and my career,” says Citigroup’s Krawcheck. “But if you walk along Third Avenue on a summer’s evening, you’ll never see me out drinking wine with my six closest friends. You won’t see me doing a lot of charity work. I’m not very nice to my siblings. I don’t see as much of my husband as I’d like. There are many women who would not make the choices I have made.”

At least now, aided by more corporate awareness and involvement, women have more control over their finance-career choices. Many female controllers and treasurers, in fact, insist that becoming CFO isn’t the coveted prize it once was. “I would give it serious consideration, but with Sarbanes-Oxley, there are a lot more things to worry about,” says Karen Latham, treasurer of Federal Signal. Moreover, women seem resigned — and even content — that balancing work and life will always be their issue. “I’d be surprised if the percentage of CFOs who are female will ever reach more than 20 or 25 percent,” says Kushner. “If you believe families are going to want to have someone home with the kids, and maybe one out of four times it will be the man, then it’s simple math. There’s just no way you can do this job in 40 hours a week.”

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