The Perils of Flextime

Flexible work arrangements are popular, but they may exact a price – particularly from women who hope to become CFOs.

Still, Williams and others are hopeful that the numbers will climb, albeit not likely dramatically, over coming years. “Anecdotally, I am seeing a next generation of female finance leaders who can and want to rise to the CFO role,” says Lorraine Hack, executive recruiter with Heidrick & Struggles, and “I have seen a lot of companies becoming more cognizant of diversity (or their lack thereof) and making a conscious effort to recruit, retain, and grow such talent.” Whether or not that will extend to more-flexible hours, of course, remains to be seen.

I Can’t Do It, But You Can

But what about other positions? Most CFOs readily accommodate one-off requests to leave early, or work from home, to, say, attend a child’s baseball game. Others go a step further and allow employees to set their own office hours. Julie Bradley, CFO of Art Technology Group, an e-commerce consultancy, says that two finance staffers regularly work alternative hours (6 a.m. to 4 p.m.) with no ill effects. “I always know how to get in touch with them,” she says. “With technology, face time should become less important.”

According to CFO’s survey, a full 95% of finance executives allow staff to structure their workdays with flexible start and stop times, and 60% permit ad-hoc work-from-home arrangements. But when it comes to regular arrangements along those lines, the numbers dip dramatically.

The percentage of female CFOs in the Fortune 500 has changed little over the past five years.

A constant stream of deadlines, many of which require
assembly-line-like teamwork, is one reason. “Even though we’re in a wired world, working as a team member is still important,” says Linda Havard, the 12-year veteran CFO of Playboy Enterprises until the end of 2009. While she did allow several women in her finance department, including a director of external reporting and an assistant treasurer, to work from home or work reduced hours in order to retain them, the arrangements weren’t always easy. “When we had to file, we had to file — we needed [them to put in] extra time,” she recalls. And will part-timers be able to be promoted? In general, “only in rare instances,” she says.

Indeed, the question for any employee who avails him- or herself of flextime options is what impact it may have on advancement. For one, advancement in finance may be as much a function of the familiarity that comes from working together as it is of performance. “If you’re not there, you’re not participating in the process directly. That can be an impediment to moving up in the organization,” says Callidus’s Fior, who is nonetheless considering some formal work-from-home arrangements in order to retain key employees following an office relocation.

There’s also the fact that finance supports and increasingly interacts with business operations, which for the most part run on a traditional — or longer — schedule. Flexible schedules in finance are “more challenging, particularly because we’re a shared-services group for offices across the country,” says Renée Hornbaker, CFO of Shared Technologies, a communications technology provider. “Other people in the organization expect to have access to you during their time, at least during standard working hours.”

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