Socioeconomic factors also play a part. For most female CFOs, the majority of whom are white, going to college was a given. Some, such as Janet Clark of Marathon Oil and Patricia McKay at Office Depot, had fathers who were finance executives and mothers who encouraged ambition in their daughters. Linda Harty, CFO of a $77 billion division of Cardinal Health, recalls that her parents “never differentiated between what boys and girls should do,” an attitude underscored by her mother’s decision to pursue an advanced degree once Harty and her brother started school.
Socioeconomic status can, in fact, complicate the definition of “diversity.” PepsiCo Inc. CEO (and former CFO) Indra Nooyi, for example, was born and reared in India and is representative of a growing class of affluent, well-educated internationals who, while small in number, may have little in common with U.S.-born Hispanics and African-Americans, who have historically been at a relative socioeconomic disadvantage.
Members of those latter groups often count themselves lucky to have attended college at all. Both Munoz of CSX and Derica Rice, CFO of Eli Lilly and an African-American, were the first in their families to attend college. “When I was in high school, a guidance counselor asked me if I had ever thought about going to college, and I said, ‘What’s a college?’” recalls Munoz.
Role models for minorities remain scarce. James Bell, CFO of $63 billion Boeing Corp., didn’t meet many business executives, much less a CFO, growing up in south-central Los Angeles. He majored in accounting at California State University simply because that seemed like a solid route to employment. Rice, an engineering major, planned to go to law school after graduation, and applied to the MBA program at Indiana University only because one of his roommates was applying to similar programs.
Why the great divide? Respondents to CFO’s survey cite the dearth of minorities in accounting and business-degree programs as a key reason why recruiting minorities is so difficult. African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented at all levels of education relative to the overall population, with only about 20 percent of either accounting graduates or MBAs coming from traditional (as opposed to recently arrived) minority groups, according to data from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. Women, by comparison, make up more than half of all accounting graduates and about 40 percent of MBAs.
Of course, education isn’t the only barrier. Asian-Americans are disproportionately represented in higher education compared with the general population, but rarely make it to the C-suite. Michael Fung, the CFO of U.S. Wal-Mart stores, for example, left an otherwise promising career at Deloitte 30 years ago because he didn’t see any partners who looked like him — a Chinese-American. As he moved on to head internal audit at Beatrice Foods, with the hope of running a division some day, he realized (thanks mostly to white male mentors) that he needed to work through some cultural obstacles to accomplish his goals.