One year ago, we examined "What Women Want" from their finance careers and found that they continue to face a number of hurdles as they pursue (or choose not to pursue) the executive ranks. This year we've expanded our focus to include women and minorities, who have also been widely underrepresented in the CFO suite ("Gap Analysis" and "The Great Divide").
As we studied the two groups, some disquieting findings emerged. While women have made significant progress in their march up the finance ladder (the number of female CFOs at America's largest companies has risen from 5 percent in 2001 to 8 percent this year, and at lower levels they often predominate), minorities haven't done nearly as well. In fact, the number of minority CFOs has remained flat for the past five years. Most finance departments are conspicuously white, and when we asked CFOs whether diversity is a priority for them, most said no.
To some degree, another set of numbers — the ones describing who does and does not enroll in college accounting programs — helps explain why women are better represented in the discipline than are minorities. In fact, one might argue that the substantial and longstanding presence of women in such programs as well as in mid- and entry-level jobs should have led to even more CFO posts for them by now.
Be that as it may, businesses cannot be completely blind to these issues. Some have begun partnering with colleges to improve minority representation in the finance pipeline, addressing everything from financial aid to internships to recruitment. With enough commitment and time, remarkable things are possible.
Does that mean that CFO's numbers will look significantly different a year from now? That's unlikely. For the foreseeable future, role models such as James Bell of Boeing and Oscar Munoz of CSX will pave the way for additional, if incremental, progress. It's not enough, but it is a start.