Lynn Calpeter had to choose. At 34, a veteran of General Electric’s elite Financial Management Program (FMP), she was offered a shot at the brass ring: the CFO slot at GE’s plastics division in Europe, a seat Keith Sherin had occupied before becoming CFO of GE Corp. But moving to Europe would mean Calpeter could no longer help care for her father, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Until the night before she had to make her decision, Calpeter admits, she was “distraught.” The big question: Would refusing a promotion for the sake of family knock her off the fast-track?
Calpeter’s dilemma is one that confronts many women in senior management. As they approach the top, the pull between work and life — caring for parents, raising children, making time for a spouse — seems to tug harder at women than at men. Balancing the two often means shortchanging one or the other.
Some women do manage that balancing act, although they remain relatively rare. Fewer than 10 percent of CFOs in either the Fortune 500 or the Fortune 1,000 are women. Drop down a notch to controller, treasurer, and tax director, and the numbers increase to about 20 percent of the Fortune 500. From the glass-is-half-full perspective, the 35 female CFOs in the Fortune 500 represent a 350 percent gain from 1995, the first year CFO magazine conducted the survey, when only 10 women held the title.
On the other hand, women have been pouring into the finance pipeline for decades. For more than 20 years they have outnumbered men in undergraduate and graduate accounting programs, and comprise the majority of new hires by public accounting firms. For the past decade, they have earned 30 to 40 percent of all MBAs. From that perspective, the drop-off at the top is dramatic.
Whether these statistics prove the existence of a glass ceiling depends on who you ask. Eighty-three percent of men think it doesn’t, according to CFO’s recent survey of finance executives. Only 44 percent of women agree. Virtually no one thinks women lack the skills or talent for the CFO job. But as Marianne Parrs, CFO of International Paper, puts it, “There’s something going on out there for sure; it’s just not at all clear to me what it is.” It’s not clear to us either, but based on both the survey and anecdotal evidence, it seems that women either choose better balance over a full-on grab for the brass ring — or have that choice very subtly made for them.
Compared with CEOs, it can be argued that CFOs boast more than their share of female superstars. Take, for example, Citigroup’s Sallie Krawcheck, the highest-ranking female CFO in the Fortune 500. Just over 10 years ago, Krawcheck, 41, left her job as an investment banker to be a stay-at-home mother. Within a year, though, she realized she was “really bad at it.” She reinvented herself as an equity analyst at Sanford Bernstein, which eventually appointed her CEO. Thanks in large part to her outspokenness there, Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill tapped her to head up his Smith Barney division in 2003 — at the height of investor concerns about conflicts between research and investment banking. In November 2004, she became CFO. With her husband, a banker who went part-time when she took Weill’s offer, and two babysitters helping her raise the kids, Krawcheck says she feels no guilt about her 80-to-90-hour workweeks. “Because I stayed home for a while, I don’t question now whether my family would be better off if I were there,” says Krawcheck, who made nearly $10 million last year.
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.
That’s not surprising, considering that the CFO is typically the CEO’s closest confidant, and CEOs want to feel very comfortable with the person they choose for that role. At least that’s how many women see it: according to women in CFO’s survey, the nature of the CFO/CEO relationship is the biggest obstacle to becoming CFO.
“Boards can do a lot for women and minorities, but for diversity to really become embedded, it takes the CEO,” says Cheryl Beebe, CFO of Corn Products International. She says few women graced the executive suites of the Chicago-based agriculture concern until the current CEO, Samuel Scott, took the reins in 2001. Beebe credits her own promotion from treasurer to the fact that Scott, who is African-American, is better able to “get away from group think” in hiring.
Men who have previously worked for women also seem more inclined to hire them, notes Stephanie Kushner, CFO of Federal Signal. When she served on the board of Hydro One, an Ontario-based energy company, four years ago, the chairman had previously worked for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. As a result, he “decided to appoint women to many senior positions,” she says, including CEO and CFO. Another factor, says CDW’s Klein: “Men who have daughters in the workforce seem to be much more aware of the issues facing women.”
More than overt discrimination, women point to a lack of the right experience. “Women are not given the opportunity to prepare for the top roles,” says Deborah Soon of research firm Catalyst. “They are relegated to certain leadership behaviors, like building teams, and not given a chance at others, like leading teams.” In finance, the gaps may also be functional: staying on a treasurer path without getting controller skills, or becoming a controller without learning operations. About one-fifth of female respondents cited lack of operations experience as a disadvantage.
It is easy to prove that such experience helps. As fresh-fruit controller for Dole Food Co., Office Depot’s McKay had to know operations intimately in order to decide where to ship bananas and pineapples before they spoiled. A later posting as corporate controller gave her a chance to work on external reporting and global financial planning. She subsequently joined a former boss at Florida-based AutoNation as senior vice president of finance, where she had responsibility for treasury. Ultimately, McKay landed her first CFO role at Restoration Hardware in 2003. “It takes a bit to be able to step into this chair,” she says.
For the women who stay at one company, the key is to keep moving around within that company. After a stint as a Wall Street analyst, Marianne Parrs joined International Paper’s treasury department in 1974 managing pension assets, knowing that “to be challenged and satisfied I’d have to have a diversity of roles.” After moving to other spots in treasury, she ran investor relations for three years and corporate communications for another four — “a major career milestone, because I learned I could do something I didn’t know anything about,” she recalls. Parrs went on to become controller of a business unit in 1985, and head of the tax department before becoming CFO in 1995. She later became executive vice president-administration, but returned to the CFO role when it opened up last year. “When you’re talking about senior jobs, you need intellectual and technical capability. But what increasingly makes the difference are leadership competencies,” says Parrs.
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.
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.
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.”
Alix Nyberg Stuart is senior writer at CFO.
The Other Battlefront: Diversity in Finance
Leara L. Dory, Emcor Facilities Services’s vice president of accounting, controller, and treasurer, has long been accustomed to the “look of shock” on colleagues’ faces when they first meet her. “It can be a double whammy when you’re a woman and a minority,” says Dory, who is African-American.
Dory has not let such experiences impede her. (“If you walk into a meeting and voice your opinion like everyone else, people forget all about it,” she states.) Many of her colleagues are not as fortunate. “There’s been little movement for minorities in finance over the past five years,” says E. Peter McLean, global practice leader for Spencer Stuart’s Financial Officers Practice. He estimates that less than 2 percent of Fortune 500 CFOs are nonwhite, and that under 3 percent of all senior finance positions in the Fortune 1,000 are held by nonwhites. What’s worse, there doesn’t seem to be much hope in the pipeline. “It is very, very hard to identify minority candidates for CFO,” says McLean.
Eral Burks, a Cleveland-based minority finance executive recruiter who does searches for the likes of Pfizer, Microsoft, and GlaxoSmithKline, says that over the past five years he has seen more companies hire minorities for midlevel finance jobs such as director of accounting, but agrees there has been scant progress when it comes to the CFO spot. In the past year, he has received four CFO searches that were squelched when the clients found white males to fill the positions, making him sometimes feel like “a dog chasing his tail.”
Burks dismisses the idea that there are no qualified minority candidates for high-level positions. “They’re out there,” says Burks, who has been recruiting for more than 20 years. Although actual placements are few and far between, what is happening, he adds, are “daily, small steps in a positive direction.”
Those steps are even smaller for minority women. But Dory believes that will change at some point. “The key is to say to yourself, ‘I am not different, I am just as good as the person sitting next to me.’” — A.N.S.
|The Fortunate Few:
The 35 female CFOs of the 500 largest companies in the United States (as of May 1, 2006).
|F500 Rank||Company/CFO/Age||What It Took|
|Admits she “wandered through her 20s” as an investment banker, became an equity analyst after a prolonged maternity leave. Named Citigroup CFO in November 2004.|
|Started as a commercial lender for what is now Wells Fargo, became a corporate treasurer. Joined Home Depot in 1995, named CFO in 2001.|
|Joined AT&T’s treasury department in 1983, became CFO of Verizon in April 2002.|
|Quit her job as an investment banker for First Boston at age 35, became CFO of Santa Fe Energy Resources. Joined Marathon as CFO in 2004.|
|51||Medco Health Solutions
|After two years as a statistician for S&P, became an assistant controller for CBS Records. Joined Medco in 1988 as director of FP&A, became CFO in 2002.|
|Came from India in her early 20s to do an MBA at Yale, then took corporate-strategy roles with Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri before joining PepsiCo in 1994.|
|Left her job as a Wall Street analyst and joined IP in 1974 as pension investment manager to reduce travel after the birth of her first child.|
|87||Federated Department Stores
|Joined Federated from Boston Consulting Group in 1982 as a senior consultant in strategic planning.|
|Went straight to business school out of college and into investment banking; joined Pfizer and then Merck. CFO since 1990.|
|After making partner at KPMG, became CFO for The Vons Cos. and then Supervalu in 1991.|
|125||Constellation Energy Group
E. Follin Smith
|Trained in General Motors’s treasury department, was CFO for a Delphi division and Armstrong Holdings before joining Constellation as CFO in 2001.|
|Has been on Office Depot’s board since 2004 and its CFO since 2005.|
|With both accounting and law degrees, joined US Steel as management trainee in tax division in 1976, moved up through treasury, named CFO in 2003.|
|Was general counsel for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a law firm partner before joining AEP in 1998 as general counsel.|
|186||Marsh & McLennan
M. Michele Burns
|A senior tax partner at Arthur Andersen, she joined Delta in 1999 and soon became CFO. Joined Marsh & McLennan from Mirant in early 2006.|
|A lawyer by training, was a managing director at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette before coming to Oracle in 1999.|
|Started career at MCI after graduating with an MBA. Became CFO in January 2006.|
|Joined First Data in 1992 as controller after 11 years at Ernst & Young; became CFO in 2000.|
|Law firm partner and state budget director before joining Cummins as general counsel in 1997. CFO since 2003.|
|243||Kinder Morgan Management
Kimberly Allen Dang
|A former Goldman Sachs investment banker, joined Kinder Morgan in 2001 as head of IR. Became treasurer in 2004 and CFO in 2005.|
|A former Andersen auditor, joined Alltel in 1999 as controller and became CFO in 2006.|
|Joined in 1998 as coupon-redemption center preparer/processor, promoted into various financial-management positions, including controller in 1997. Named CFO in 2003.|
|After a career in banking, joined Gannett as assistant treasurer in 1985. Became CFO in 2003.|
|A former auditor, joined Southwest’s tax department in 1988, worked her way up through treasury. Named CFO in 2004.|
|Joined Applied Materials in 1985 as assistant treasurer; has been both treasurer and controller. Promoted to CFO in 2004.|
|Joined Dynegy in 2000 after auditing for PwC; became controller and treasurer. Named CFO in 2005.|
|Started as an auditor for E&Y, was controller for Ameritech and CFO of Dean Foods before joining CDW as CFO in 2002.|
|Joined Unisys as controller in 1996 after making partner at E&Y. Promoted to CFO in July 2000.|
|Auditor then corporate controller. Joined Smith in 1995 as director of financial reporting. Became CFO in 1999.|
|Joined Darden in 1982; was promoted from CIO to CFO in December 2002.|
|Once the global director of equity research at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette; joined Yahoo in 2000.|
|449||Whole Foods Market
Glenda Flanagan Chamberlain
|The mother of six has been CFO of Whole Foods since joining in 1988, after beginning her career as auditor.|
LeAnne M. Stewart
|Formerly manager of corporate finance for Enron Europe, began career as auditor, joined Nash Finch in 1999 as head of FP&A, became controller and then CFO in 2004.|
|Joined company in 1982, promoted to CFO in 2001 from VP of IR and assistant secretary.|
|480||Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold
Kathleen L. Quirk
|Has been with FCX since 1989, working in various areas of treasury and IR. Named CFO in 2003.|
|Sources: Heidrick & Struggles; the companies|