The Last Mile

The key to moving up? It might be moving.


What does it take to become a CFO? That was the question we put to nearly a dozen women who ascended to the top finance positions at U.S. multinational companies in the past year, and their answers are instructive for men and women alike ("Secrets of Their Success"). Some of the keys to their success are hardly secrets: intelligence, dedication, broad experience, and a keen ability to see the big picture.

All of those traits count for a lot. But what was notable was how often these women had to move in order to move up. Several described how having a stay-at-home or self-employed spouse has been essential to their ability to seize valuable opportunities. And fully a quarter of the 25 we identify as "Women to Watch" point to an overseas assignment as the most career-enhancing move they've made to date.

There may well be a direct connection between that need for mobility and the relative stasis of women's progress in reaching the C-suite. While 10 women joined the ranks of Fortune 500 CFOs in the past year or so, another 10 departed. The result: women still account for just under 8 percent of those 500 positions.

The willingness, and ability, to relocate may be one price of admission to the executive ranks, but it's hard to argue that in this respect men and women are created equal. Many women who have the skills to lead large organizations may find it far more difficult to lead their families on a peripatetic journey to the top. Crossing the last mile may in fact entail crossing the country, or the globe, several times over. Ultimately this may be an inescapable reality that ambitious women will have to confront, but it's also a reality that companies should think harder about as they seek to develop all the talent at their disposal.

Companies are certainly thinking hard about the economy these days. We've put together a special section, "The Way Forward: Surviving a Recession" that offers advice on five key areas of operations. This section inaugurates a broader look at what lies ahead for the economy, the electorate, and, of course, CFOs. Watch for more coverage of "The Way Forward" in future issues.


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