Women Make Inroads to CFO's Office

@heesaf (739)
October 26, 2006 1:22pm CST
Although women have long been underrepresented among corporate executives, they're making modest inroads to the CFO's office. In the S&P 500, women presently hold about seven percent of CFO positions, according to an informal analysis of data from Hoover's, a service which maintains a database on 16 million companies. An abundance of females within the finance sector is helping some women ascend to C-level status. A significant number are pursuing accounting or business degrees, necessary credentials for CFOs. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants reports that 31 percent of its members are female. Women also comprised more than 30 percent students entering MBA programs last year. Sharon Keefe, CFO of Bostonian Group, a private benefits consulting firm in Boston, worked her way up through a series of positions at successively larger companies. During her career in public accounting, she entered the controller track at a small bank, then served as controller for several others, including a global institution. She also gained corporate treasury and business group experience, working on IPOs and mergers and acquisitions. "I was never afraid of reaching out to coaches and mentors to help me break through the glass ceiling," says Keefe. "I wanted to learn how to achieve as much as I can and still be all the other things I wanted to be." (She is also a wife and mother of three children.) She says her hours as CFO, while demanding, are more manageable than those of an earlier position that required frequent worldwide travel. "Now that more and more women are going into accounting, it's only natural there will be more women rising through the ranks and becoming CFOs," says Tim VanDamm, president of VanDamm & Associates, an accounting and finance staffing firm in Somerville, Mass. Regardless of gender, successful CFO candidates often have expertise in both internal and external financial controls, says Scott Simmons, vice president of Crist Associates, an executive recruiting firm in Hinsdale, Ill. For example, a candidate may have been both a controller, who supervises and audits internal financial affairs, and head of investor relations, who deals with shareholders outside the company's walls. Women seeking to advance to CFO and other C-level positions can also research companies that embrace diversity initiatives. Catalyst, a New York City research and advisory organization that works to expand career opportunities for women, annually honors companies who have demonstrated a sustained commitment toward the advancement of women. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers a number of women's initiatives. www.big4.com
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