Taking the Next Step

Women who want to advance to the top spot in finance often need a sponsor. Here's why.

These responses are not entirely unwarranted. On average, diversity-training programs did not increase gender or racial diversity among corporate managers, according to the American Sociological Review study. Training also tends to backfire when it focuses on companies’ legal liability to have a diverse workplace, the study’s authors later wrote, and that negative motivation can leave many employees unreceptive.

Instead, companies can emphasize diversity’s contribution to the business. Such an approach was crucial to making employees more open to the training at MMC, Wittman says. Indeed, many studies suggest that diversity (particularly gender diversity) improves company performance. A 2004 Catalyst survey, for instance, found that the companies with more female corporate officers outperformed companies with fewer women in senior management.

Scott Page, a University of Michigan professor who studies the effects of corporate diversity, explains its impact this way: people of different genders and races will have different approaches to problems due to their varied backgrounds. As long as a group gets along, a diverse group of qualified people will find better solutions than a homogenous group with only one approach.

Diversity benefits the company as a whole, not just the employees who advance, says MMC’s Komsa. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that a more engaged workforce is more productive,” she says. “And there’s a very tight connection between engagement and inclusion. If you feel included in a workforce, chances are you’re more engaged” and thus more productive. Companies that develop programs that make all employees feel they can advance on merit should see a bottom-line impact.

Marielle Segarra is a staff writer at CFO.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Marsh & McLennan Cos. rarely used candidate slates for external hires several years ago but now uses them almost two-thirds of the time. In fact, the company rarely used candidate slates for a more specific population: a sample of
senior-level
external hires. After diversity officers made an effort to change hiring practices, they studied another group of senior-level external hires a year later and found that candidate slates had been used for those hires almost two-thirds of the time. The story has been updated to reflect the correction.

There are 45 female CFOs in the 2011 Fortune 500, compared with 44 in each of the previous two years.

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