Scientist, Educator & Speaker
Demonstrating financial acumen is critical to achieving career success at the executive leadership level. However, women are often shutout from projects and positions that get them into “the money room” where they can work on strategic planning that involves finance and budgeting (Colantuono, 2010).
As noted by Christine Essel (2017), President and CEO of Southern California Grantmakers and former Senior Vice President of Paramount Pictures, her early work in accounting and finance gave her “a certain amount of credibility, that generally I think women are cast in a way that, well, “they’re not savvy about the way that the business really works.”” (Wayne, 2017) This stereotype that women are inherently weak in budget and finance is not borne out by findings from recent studies. In fact, businesses that have women on their Boards and in the position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) actually perform better than those businesses with all male leadership. Let’s take a closer look:
As of 2016, only 12.5% of CFOs of Fortune 500 companies were women (SpencerStuart, 2017). This gender gap is not just at the top. A recent survey showed that only 18% of Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) members were women (Adams et al., 2017). This survey also revealed that gender-specific barriers discourage women from entering finance professions, including “finance is a profession that disproportionately rewards those who work long and inflexible hours. Women face greater time obligations outside of work. Thus female CFA members express a stronger desire to recapture time from work than male CFA members.” Further, a recent study (Ovaska-Few, 2018) which analyzed hiring and promotion practices of more than 200 large companies and surveyed 70,000 employees, found that women were getting passed over for key promotions – including in the area of finance — early in their careers (which will have an exponential impact on their overall career arc – and earnings!). And women continued to be passed over for promotions at disproportionate rates compared with their male colleagues throughout their careers, resulting in fewer women in top jobs including CFO. This is not a problem with the women; it is a serious problem with our culture and gender-based stereotypes and biases.
It has been established that there are relatively few women going into finance, and even fewer women making it to the top of their profession as CFOs due to gender bias, but what about those companies that do have women at the top? Research showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in their senior leadership were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the national median for their industry; and, those with racial and ethnic diversity in their senior leadership were 30% more likely to have higher financial return above the national median (Wechsler, 2015). Diversity at the top is good for business!
Other studies have found that women CFOs are, overall, more ethical than their male counterparts, meaning fewer scandals and less exposure to risk from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or other regulatory bodies. You would think that alone would be incentive for companies to diversify their leadership. An examination of the associations between CFO gender, board gender diversity, and corporate tax evasion over a 20-year period of time found that women CFOs were less likely to evade taxes than male CFOs (Yang and Kelton, 2015). This may be due in part to women Chief Executive Officers exhibiting more conservative and ethical business behaviors than their male counterparts – and “can serve as a natural defense against fraudulent misstatements and, therefore, may have important accounting and economic implications.” (Ho et al., 2015) It is not surprising that ethical decision making, expectations, and messaging from the top flows downstream to impact other executives’ actions.
Behaviors that impact financial return and ethical decision-making may be related to gender and racial differences in leadership ambitions and motivations. Compared to all men in a recent survey, White, Asian, Latina, Black and Lesbian women were more highly motivated for wanting top executive positions in order to provide a role model for others like themselves and to use their position to make a positive impact on the world. All of these women were less motivated than men to use their position to impact the success of their company (LeanIn and McKinsey & Company, 2018), and yet women executives end up benefitting the bottom line. Perhaps being highly motivated to make their company successful can lead down a slippery slope of winning at all costs and ultimately have the opposite effect.
Compared to men, women executive leaders have been found to take less financial risks and exhibit greater ethical behavior – with outcomes that are positive for companies’ bottom lines and reputations.
Counter to the prevailing stereotype that women make poor financial business decisions, the growing evidence is that female executive leadership is good for business. Savvy business managers and leaders would do well to actively mentor their women employees in finance and budgeting, and launch them along a career path that is in alignment with their personal and professional goals – without putting roadblocks in the way. Women working in and having access to “the money room” is good for business!
Colantuono SL. No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven’t been told about leadership from career-start to the corporate boardroom. Editor: J Baldwin; Publisher: Interlude Productions; 2010.
The blog of the Institute for Women's Policy Research
Mark Cooper and John Marx write about universities.
Driving Advice for Lost Angelenos
INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
rock and roll