- Men in the financial industry are much more likely to report aspirations to the CFO seat compared to women in the field, according to a survey of financial professionals by spend optimization platform Emburse released Tuesday. The company’s Modern Finance Careers study found 22% of men want to achieve the rank of CFO, compared to just 8% of women.
- The study also found more women are joining the financial ranks, however, making up an increasing percentage of those entering the industry — meaning the challenge of women gaining access to the C-Suite is not one of pipeline but one of environment, Emburse CFO Adriana Carpenter said in an interview.
- “There is no pipeline problem,” Carpenter said. “There's lots of pipeline. The issue is once women get to a certain point … there are these barriers, perceived or real, where they're saying, this is too hard, it's too much, it’s too different. We need to create an environment in which women feel heard.”
The study reported that 26% of men had 20-plus years of experience in the field compared with 23% of women who stated the same over that time period. The study also showed 21% of women reported having less than five years of experience compared to just 13% of male financial professionals. — indicating a rising number of women joining finance teams.
Women comprised 15.9% out of 678 sitting CFOs according to a January survey of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies released by Crist|Kolder Associates — an all time high. The number of black CFOs doubled from 12 to 20 out of that figure from 2020 to 2021, the study found. The number of Asian and Indian CFOs dropped from 40 to 39 and Hispanic CFOs numbered 14 out of the 678 considered.
While the increase of women in finance creates the eventual potential for more female CFOs, the study also found internal promotions still remains the top way for candidates to move ahead in their careers — making mentorship essential.
Women, however, are more likely to point to the role of their managers in their career advancement while men are more likely to cite mentors. Thirty-five percent of women stated their managers had most influenced their careers, according to the study, while 28% of men said the same of mentors.
Women are most likely to find their mentors in their managers, Carpenter said, while men may be cultivating informal mentor relationships at events or areas in the business where women may not necessarily be invited. Creating an inclusive environment where executives are actively reaching back and pulling forward diverse talent is critical, Carpenter said.
“If we really want to have diversity in our executive teams, we have to be reaching back and identifying that talent that is diverse,” she said. “[We have to be] helping them to have the confidence to seek the next role, working with them to help them remove barriers that they have, either real or mental, to being able to bridge those gaps and develop them to get to the C-Suite. This isn't going to happen by accident.”
Candidates aspiring to the C-Suite must also be sure to hone their technology skills, she said. The study found 58% of financial professionals across the board expect to see automation impact financial reporting, with others pointing to operational accounting, financial planning and analysis (FP&A) and treasury as areas they anticipate will be impacted by technology.
“It is so critical for anyone quite frankly in the C-suite to have a technology forward viewpoint of how you're going to run the company,” Carpenter said. “Data is at the heart of everything. You can run a company so much better when you have access to data, and really leverage that data with the tech that exists today, to help you really drive insights into how you're making business decisions, how you're investing your funds.”
Carpenter has served as CFO for Emburse since November 2021 according to her LinkedIn.
Creating an inclusive environment is one way executives can center diversity at their firms, but it can also be beneficial to have a chief diversity officer to set the strategy for creating such an environment at companies. It is difficult to measure success without having a dedicated strategy in place, Carpenter pointed out. Finding a chief diversity officer can be difficult, however, as the relative newness of the executive position makes recruitment challenging, she said.
Emburse recently hired Shosanna Lewis, formerly a human resources executive at the Marsh McLennan Agency, to serve as its CDO beginning in June, according to Lewis’ LinkedIn.
“There are so many ways that [businesses] send off all kinds of signals that say, ‘we're not all inclusive’ — and unintentionally, there's a whole bunch of barriers that make it more difficult to achieve diversity,” Carpenter said. “So having someone waking up thinking about it every day and helping us to navigate a path to creating that type of environment and setting up goals…[is] super helpful.”