What do Bed, Bath & Beyond, JPMorgan Chase, and Goodyear Tire & Rubber have in common? They all have women chief financial officers.
There are now 58 female CFOs serving at Fortune 500 companies, according to a Fortune analysis in collaboration with S&P Capital IQ. The list is based on the latest available data in the S&P Capital database as of early February. While that’s 14 more than in 2010 when nonprofit research firm, Catalyst, conducted a similar count of the Fortune 500 and 30 more than in 2000, the number of women CFOs at America’s largest corporations has risen by just one more since 2013.
Female finance chiefs still make up a paltry 11.6% of the total. Looking at it the other way, almost 90 percent of Fortune 500 CFOs are men. For some, the acceleration rate seems closer to that of a Model T than a Tesla.
“It’s very frustrating to see the needle move so slowly after so many years,” says Naomi Sutherland, a senior partner in the diversity and inclusion practice at Los Angeles-based executive recruiter Korn Ferry. “Consciously or subconsciously, companies are still hesitant to take the risk on someone who looks different from their standard leadership profile. And when the candidate looks different and acts differently than the people around you who have been successful, it may feel like a risk to go with the woman.”
What makes the painfully slow progress even more puzzling is the body of research conducted over several years by organizations like McKinsey & Co. that suggests companies actually perform better when their senior leadership represents a larger and more diverse pool of candidates. In January, McKinsey released the latest results that show companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above the national median for their industry; those with racial and ethnic diversity were 30 percent more likely. The research was based on earnings before interest and taxes from 2010 to 2013.
Having more women on boards and in senior management also may keep companies out of legal and ethical trouble. According to Wake Forest University and University of North Carolina-Wilmington researchers, female CFOs are less tempted to employ riskier tax-avoidance measures and other potentially illegal tactics to eek out a little more profit. Of course, that doesn’t mean women make better CFOs than do men. But the researchers contend that male CFOs are more driven to attain money and power and therefore more tempted to cut corners.
The study also notes that having one or two token women in management isn’t sufficient to dissuade male-dominated boards; women need to make up at least 30 percent of the board to make a difference.
Women CFOs, like men, most often come to the job through accounting, cash management work for corporations, or investment banking work on Wall Street. Many don’t have business unit leadership experience. Yet, from the position, a few notable women have gone on to lead organizations, including Safra Catz, who was the highest paid CFO before becoming the co-CEO of Oracle Corp.
at the end of 2014, and Lynn Good, who became the CEO of Duke Energy Corp.
in July 2013.
Bryan Proctor, head of Korn Ferry’s CFO Practice, notes that only 7.5 percent of both male and female CFOs move up to the chief executive office, although far more are starting to make it to the short lists for the top job.
Even for men, the job doesn’t necessarily offer long-term security, with the average tenure of a sitting CFO, regardless of gender, being between five and six years. That’s according to studies by EY and Spencer Stuart.
For women, the pressure can be especially intense. Promotion to any C-suite job pushes female executives into a predominantly male world in which she stands out. Trip, and everyone is watching. This month at Kraft Foods Group
, the arrival of a new CEO precipitated earlier this month the departure of the management team’s two most powerful women—CFO Teri List-Stoll and CMO Deanie Elsner. Veteran Kraft executive James Kehoe was brought back to the company to take the CFO slot; the CMO job remains open. That leaves three females still standing on what is now a 14-person management team.
Despite the rough terrain any CFO must traverse, a handful of female Fortune 500 CFOs have been on the list for a decade or more, including Carol Tomé, who became CFO at The Home Depot
in 2001, Kathleen Quirk, CFO since 2003 at Freeport-McMoRan Inc.
, and Judy Bruner, CFO since 2004 at SanDisk Corp.
(See the full list here.)
The longest-sitting CFO among the Fortune 500 ‘58’ is Glenda Flanagan. In 1988, when Whole Foods
had just six stores, Flanagan knew the retailer’s controller, and he recommended her to come in as finance chief after a search firm failed to find any female candidates. Flanagan helped build Whole Foods into a giant, including taking it public in 1992. Whole Foods joined the Fortune 500 in 2005.
Here are the stories of 5 other women CFOs.
Pat Wechsler is a veteran business reporter who has worked for Business Week, Bloomberg and Newsday. For seven years, she was editorial director of Treasury & Risk, a magazine and conference franchise for Fortune 1,000 CFOs, treasurers, controllers and senior finance officers.