Breaking Barriers: How Modern Women CFOs Are Tackling the Gender Pay Gap and Transforming the Workplace

April 27, 2023 Mimi Torrington

woman cfo working inside transformed workplace

The traditional working system was unintentionally designed by men, for men, resulting in men getting paid more and women making up only nine percent of CEOs. This was observed by Jenna Fisher after researching multiple Fortune 100 companies. Women juggle multiple roles and seek innovative ways to balance their responsibilities effectively. And to attract top talent, companies must recognize this and offer greater autonomy and flexibility. But how else can we tackle the gender pay gap? Let's find out from Jenna how women CFOs are transforming the workplace.

As the Managing Director of Russell Reynolds Associates, Jenna focuses on overseeing senior financial officer assignments and has an impressive track record of completing over 400 CFO searches for clients in diverse industries. Her clients range from Fortune 1000 corporations to private equity portfolio companies and high-profile, pre-public venture-backed enterprises. In addition to her successful career, Jenna is the author of the book To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success.

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Welcome back to CFO Weekly, where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build efficiency in their teams, create time for strategy, and ultimately get results with your host, Megan Meese. Let's jump right in.

Megan - 00:00:31: Today, my guest is Jenna Fisher. Jenna is committed to finding transformational leaders who can guide companies forward in a changing world. Over the past 20 years, she has developed strong relationships with a broad cross-section of global business leaders and the companies they shape. Having completed more than 400 CFO and board searches, she has a deep understanding of what professional and personal experiences, as well as the personality traits, are needed at the top. She knows that the most successful companies, in terms of any metric, are led by diverse teams who understand and reflect their products, services, employees, and audiences. She is also the author of the book, Into the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership are Rewriting the Rules for Success. Jenna, thank you so much for joining me on today's episode of CFO Weekly.

Jenna - 00:01:22: Thank you for having me, Megan. I'm delighted to be here.

Megan - 00:01:25: Yeah. Today we're going to be talking about your experience in searching for CFOs and the pay gap between male and female CFOs that came to your attention along the way. I'm super excited about this topic and I'm looking forward to learning from you. So let's get started. Okay, first, and as always, let's start with you, your history, and how it is that you got to where you are today.

Jenna - 00:01:48: Well, it's funny because I don't think anybody sort of wakes up when they're 20 years old with the epiphany that they want to be an executive search professional, and I'm probably no different. I had gone to College at Rice, thinking at first I was going to academia, but then I realized, oh, you have to be kind of willing to live anywhere to be a professor. And I for sure wanted to live in California. So instead I went to Duke Law School because I thought, okay, well, I'm good at critical thinking and writing and law seems prestigious and interesting enough. But at the end of law school, I got recruited to go work in management consulting at Bain & Company. And then from there, I decided to want to get my MBA. And it was around that time that when I was about to go off to Wharton, that I learned about the wonderful world of executive search and have been here at Russell Reynolds Associates for 20 years now and really love what I do. So I feel so fortunate that although it wasn't a straight line, I sort of stumbled into a passion early in life.

Megan - 00:02:42: Yeah, that's nice. It's always nice when we can love what we do.

Jenna - 00:02:46: Yeah, absolutely. It's so critical. I think this especially for women because especially if you want to have both a family and a professional life, you're going to have a lot of distractions along the way. And so I think finding a passion is really the key so that you never want to look back and you can keep at it even when it's hard.

Megan - 00:03:05: Yeah. There's nothing worse than going to what feels like work every day of your life.

Jenna - 00:03:10: Yes. And what I do is such a privileged role. I get to meet so many amazing people every day. It's like being the proverbial priest or rabbi to the career world. So it's quite interesting.

Megan - 00:03:21: So as you look back on your career, are there any turning points or stories that stand out in your mind as pivotal?

Jenna - 00:03:29: Yeah, it's interesting. When I was working at Bain, one of the partners who I was close to, he was one of the folks writing my letters of recommendation for business school. And he asked me one day, okay, what's your story? What's your angle? What do you want to get out of your MBA? What do you want to do after you graduate? And I don't know. I probably just want to come back to Bain and become a partner here. And he looked at me kind of funny at that moment, and I'll never forget it because he said, I don't really see that happening. And I was like, Lord. I was like, what do you mean? And he said, well, we're evaluated on three things here. There's the quant piece, the team piece, and the client piece. And you are world-class with clients. You're better than most of our partners. You're awesome with the team, and everybody loves working with you, but you're just average on the quant piece. And I initially was so taken aback and shocked because I'd never been told I was average at anything except for maybe softball. But upon reflecting, I knew in my heart that he wasn't wrong. And it was that moment that led me to explore and got me into search. And I remember I have this aunt who I refer to as Aunt Ohio. She doesn't live in Ohio, but she's very, like, middle of the road. Like, I joke that pollsters don't need to call a million people. They just go ask my aunt who's going to win the presidency. And I remember being at Thanksgiving that year with my family and telling everyone that I was going to, after Wharton, go into executive search. And she could not understand why I would pick that over being a lawyer or a management consultant, because those things seemed so much more prestigious and interesting. And it was then that I realized that finding a career that aligns with the thing that you love and that you can be top 1% in is so important. Because being the best in the world at what you do is so much more fun than just doing something that looks good on somebody else's. Top ten list of how to appear successful. And so I think for me, that was a really important lesson. It took a bit of bravery and courage, to be honest. But I'm so glad that I took that chance.

Megan - 00:05:29: Yeah, courage is one of the words I hear most often in how people come to be successful and find careers that they love.

Jenna - 00:05:41: Yeah, I think you're right.

Megan - 00:05:43: So I'm curious to know, what are some of the most sought-after traits of modern-day CFOs? What are most companies out there looking for in a CFO?

Jenna - 00:05:53: Yeah, absolutely. Well, even taking that up a notch and talk about executives in general, because I meet all sorts of executives in what I do. Of course, I recruit specifically board members and CFOs. But in writing my book In to the Top, which just came out, I interviewed 50 incredible, diverse women around the globe. And I think it used to be thought that the more traditionally male, and I'm putting that in air quotes, male forms of leadership, like being disruptive and risk-taking and heroic and galvanizing, all of those were what the marks of a great leader were. That and probably being 6ft, three inches tall. But what we've actually come to learn through our exclusive partnership with Hogan here at Russell Reynolds and Hogan is the preeminent executive assessment tool. Is that actually it's the leaders who can be yes, sometimes those more loud, galvanizing qualities, but also the leaders who can flex and span and be equally leaning into the oppositional kinds of leadership competencies like pragmatism and vulnerability and connectedness and being quiet. That is actually the most predictive of being a successful leader. And I think we saw this in droves with COVID with a real need to lead, with connectedness and empathy and kindness. And we saw a lot of women shine in that regard, both on the political arena stage as well as in our companies. When I think about CFOs, CFOs tend to have certain attributes very much in common with CEOs. So, for example, being very data rational, and being very pragmatic, those are trends, and analytical, are themes that undergird both. However, when we see CFOs who want to move into CEO roles, some of the differences and things that they need to work on are the ability to be more optimistic as opposed to more pragmatic, the ability to be more outspoken as opposed to quieter. And I think this is one of the reasons that if a CFO can learn those other ways of being, they can be so highly effective because they're able to span from one set of skills and competencies into another.

Megan - 00:08:13: So, in your experience, what are some of the biggest barriers that are preventing women from attaining the role of CFO?

Jenna - 00:08:20: Yeah, well, you know what's interesting? Back in September 2020, which was, I guess, still kind of the nascent days of COVID although we probably didn't know it, I conducted a survey of about 200 of my clients. It was about half men, half women. And I asked them one question when it is safe to do so, how many days a week do you ideally want to go back into the office? And although most people said about two days a week, the really interesting finding for me was that at the barbells, at the ends of the spectrum, it was only men who said they would want to go back, in five days a week. And conversely, only women who said they never wanted to go back in with any regularity, save for special events. And this really, for me, highlighted that men and women are having very different experiences in life. And I think many women wear lots of hats. Yes, we think of ourselves as executives, but we may also think of ourselves as moms or community volunteers or neighbors or daughters in a way that I think this new way of working enables women in particular. And men, I think, also can benefit to do our jobs just as well remotely as by commuting. And so I bring this up because I think that the system we have of driving into offices and we think about the way we work. It's a vestige from the industrial era, from 100 years ago, modeled after the assembly line and created a time when women weren't really even working outside of the home in droves like we are now. And I think that this new way of working and this acknowledgment that the system we have was really set up by men for men. And again, it doesn't mean that men are trying to harm women, far from it. But we need to really think about careers differently, I think, because what has worked for men to be successful in terms of learning in their 20s, go earn in their 30s, reaching career this apex nirvana by the age of 45 or 50, and then retire at the age of 55, whatever. That might work really well for men. But for women, especially women who might want to have children, I think we need to give people a little bit more freedom and grace to run the race at a pace that might be more acceptable to them for periods of time. And so maybe that means that there's a woman who doesn't reach the apex of her career until she's 55, let's say. And so I think there's just this acknowledgment, or needs to be this acknowledgment, that women perhaps need to think about their careers differently to make it to the top. And the companies that get this, I mean, it is a war for talent out there. Oh, my gosh, the supply-demand curves are so misaligned, especially for CFOs. I think the companies that get this are going to be the ones that get the best talent.

Megan - 00:11:08: And the pay gap, let's talk about that. Between male and female CFOs, you found it to be pretty significant. So first, let's talk about what you did find, and then secondly, what we can do to close this gap.

Jenna - 00:11:25: Yeah, well, I think you're alluding to a story. Several years ago, I was conducting a search for a Fortune 100 company in the Midwest, a large industrial company. And at the end of every search, one of the things we do is have our research team will look at all the comps for other people in similar roles, similar market cap kinds of companies, industries, locations, et cetera. So my researcher pulled a list. I had about 16 people on it and was looking at it and looking at the averages. Top quartile, bottom quartile, median, et cetera. And as I looked down the list, I realized that the women were making about 30% less than the men. And I thought, well, that's interesting, that's strange. Why is that? And so I then had my researcher slice and dice the data in a multitude of ways. I looked at the PE ratios of the company. I looked at were the CFOs, new and seat. Were the CFOs coming up from a different path? Like perhaps CFOs who came up through accounting were making less than CFOs who came up through banking? Had they been at the company for more years? I probably looked at a dozen and a half different ways of slicing and dicing the data, and nothing was correlated with the pay gap other than gender. And I was sort of shocked and then outraged. And I almost thought about, at the time, going to the media with it, but I didn't. Instead, I've used it as an instructive tool, because I believe that if companies, whether it's intentionally or unintentionally, do not pay women fairly, it really does not endure to their benefit. Because what will happen inevitably, particularly in this market where we need great talent, is that they will learn, because recruiters will call them, that they are not making a market salary or total comp, and they are going to be much more likely to leave that company. And so really, it does a company no service to undercompensate anybody because retention is so key and you don't want people distracted by their comp. That should be something you negotiate, and then you don't have to think about it when you show up for work every day. So I've used it over the course of time, and I have seen a huge improvement. I will say many States, as you know, have enacted pay non-transparency laws, basically, where you don't have to disclose your compensation, at least the cash components of it. And I do think that has endured to the benefit of women. But there are a lot of ways. And I think the first thing we all need to do is acknowledge our biases, and we need to be more proactive about eradicating stereotypes so they don't distort the way decisions are made. We've all heard, oh, she doesn't have the gravitas. Well, does she not have gravitas? Or is she just not as tall as you want her to be? And I'll tell you a personal story. When I was writing my book Last Fall, I happened to I was flying to go see a client and got on the plane. It was early in the morning, and I was greeted at the door of the aircraft by a woman and assumed she was a flight attendant, said good morning, sat down, and then I saw her go into the cockpit and come on the intercom speaker system and turns out she was the pilot of the plane. And I'm thinking, here I am writing a book about gender parity, and I'm making assumptions that this woman was not the pilot. And I thought, well, shame on me, so I'll never make that mistake again. But for me, it really highlights that we all have these biases, and it's probably human nature on some level to have some of them, but we need to do all the things we can to eradicate them. So one of the things I mentioned in my book is Christopher Corals, the CEO of Eludo. When she took her job as CEO, she realized that only 14% of the technical team at the company consisted of women. So she started Blinding Resumes, which means you don't have any information about name photos, details about gender or race. And within the next quarter, 50% of the engineers getting hired at the company were women. And there are that famous orchestra auditions at Harvard University that found that Blinding Interviews increased women auditioners' odds by 50%. So I think those are some of the things that companies can do.

Megan - 00:15:33: That's crazy stuff. Just to think that in this day and age, we're still dealing with stuff like that is crazy. But you're right. I mean, biases are hard to overcome. They're embedded in us and not easy to get past them.

Jenna - 00:15:50: Yeah, but one thing that is relatively easy to do is companies need to have women on every one of their succession pipeline lists so you can't hire somebody if you don't consider them. We need to be looking at that when we take into account people's compensation and their bonuses at companies. How many women, how many people of color did you hire? What were those pools of talent? What did they look like? Let's look at all of the data we have. Remember, nobody is a perfect purple unicorn. Position specifications are wish list. So how can we set people up for success years in advance? To develop them, round them out, give them PnL responsibilities, perhaps other kinds of opportunities so that they can continue to grow in their career?

Megan - 00:16:33: And let's talk about your book. So your book was published on March 14 of this year, and it's called into the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership are Rewriting the Rules for Success. So, first of all, I'm just curious, what inspired you to write this?

Jenna - 00:16:49: Yeah, well, I've always had a passion for keeping women on a path to success starting with the research, I'd done as an undergrad on the differential in performance between boys and girls in math and science, wherein I learned the only statistically correlated difference was that in self-confidence, not in achievement. And then fast forward, I came to Russell Reynolds 20 years ago, and there would be countless times where I'd interview a woman and I'd hear from her, I'm the only one, only one, only one. And I thought, well, you're not the only one, because I'm meeting other really talented women. Let me connect you. But in their organizations or on their boards, they were the only woman. And then I also had the experience where I would get introduced to just amazing women who had had incredible careers, but then the typical storyline would be something like she'd had her second or third child and then stepped out of the workforce. And before she'd known it, a decade had gone past and she wanted to get back into the workforce in a financially meaningful way, and she just couldn't. And I thought this is such a shame. Like, we're losing all this talent. These women aren't achieving their financial independence in life, and there has to be a better way because I really do believe that without economic parity, there will be no true equality between the sexes. And so I thought at first, I thought I was going to write a guidebook for younger women. And so I started to interview these incredible women all around the globe. But it turns out that what I learned is that it's not things that women need to do differently. It's that companies need to rethink the career webs and ladders that we've set forth for women to climb. That's what needs to change. It's not that we're not leaning in far enough. That's not why only 9% of CEOs are women when 71% of valedictorians are women and over 50% of undergrads or graduates are women and over 50% of graduate school graduates are women. It's that the system wasn't set up for us to be successful. And so we really need to be mindful of that and start to think about how we can make the system different so that women can achieve their full potential in life.

Megan - 00:18:50: And let's talk about diversity. So how important is diversity, including gender diversity, of course, in the C-suite and boardroom? And what are the benefits that it brings to a company?

Jenna - 00:19:02: Well, I think we've all heard the expression see it to be it. And of course, men and women men will, can, and will absolutely be both mentors and sponsors for women rising up through the ranks. But there's nothing quite like having representation at the top of companies for younger women to look up to as role models, people who could assure them that's possible to stick with it even when it's hard. And we've all seen I mean, there are countless studies that prove that the companies that have more diverse voices at the table, yield better outcomes. And so, to be clear, I didn't write this book to implore companies to do this out of the benevolence of their own hearts. It is cold, hardcore carnivorous capitalism that engendered me to write this book, because I believe that it's the companies that get religion around this that will ultimately be more successful, and they'll be the ones that will win the war for talent. And as one of my interviewees said to me, she's the CEO of a company in Norway. And she said we have so few people in our country who can actually do these jobs. If we don't really make sure women are absolutely part of the solution here, we won't have enough people to run our companies. So it's almost to that point of desperation but in addition to the fact that it's just necessary. And I read an article several years ago. It was a study done by a professor at Stanford, and she conducted two research exercises. One was a completely homogeneous group of folks. It was all white male engineers. And they were given a puzzle that they had to work on for about an hour. At the end of the puzzle, end of the hour, they were asked, how do you think you did on that assignment? And they all said we did great. We nailed it. It was awesome. We had a great time. And then she inserted one different person into the group. Next, she put in one woman of color who was a sociology major as opposed to an engineering major, and they conducted the same experiment. And at the end of it, she said, How'd it go? How do you think you did? How was it? And they said It was really hard. Like, I don't know that we did that well on it, actually. But it turned out that the group that had some diversity to it actually did 50% better than the group that was homogeneous. It didn't feel as good because it wasn't as fun. It wasn't like you didn't have the group thing of thinking, oh, yeah, we got this. We crushed it. But they actually did a lot. They performed a lot better. And so I think about that. Sometimes diversity is hard, but it yields better results.

Megan - 00:21:28: And how can companies ensure that they're creating an inclusive environment for all employees, regardless of race, gender, whatever the case may be?

Jenna - 00:21:38: Yeah, well, I think part of it does start with admitting and understanding biases. Right? I mean that's such kind of foundational. But there are lots of tips and tricks I give in my book. One of the ones that stand out is I had a client several years ago reach out to me. They had only one woman on their board, and they wanted to make it more representative of their customer base and their employee base, which was over 50% women in both cases. And they sent me their board agenda. And I was looking through the materials, and I noted that every single one of their board meetings started with a round of GOLF. And I said to them, I said, hey, have you ever thought about maybe doing another activity besides GOLF or fishing during your off-site? And I pointed out to them the acronym GOLF actually stands for Guys Only Ladies Forbidden. And I said, maybe the culture at the top needs to change so that senior women leaders can actually feel part of the conversation before they even get to the conference table, and thankfully, they listen to me and change their format. It's something kind of as simple as that sometimes. And I do think that this new Zoom world that we're all living in is one that is really ripe for helping to engender equality because everybody's box is the same size. In the Zoom world, it doesn't matter how tall you are, how short you are, whether you're sitting at the front of the table, or whether it's in the side of the room, you are an equal participant. And it's easy for a manager to look around and make sure somebody's not getting talked over and somebody isn't getting the credit for what somebody else says, that everybody's voice has been heard. And that goes for whether you're a person of color or LGBTQ or a woman or a person who has a different kind of ability in some form or fashion. And so I really think that this is the moment in which we can start to disrupt the way the world has been kind of we've been going along for the last hundred years, and it's worked for some, but it hasn't worked for all. And so I think we need to rethink what works for all.

Megan - 00:23:41: And what advice would you give to women who are interested in pursuing a career in finance? You said that they shouldn't have to do things differently than what they're doing today, but it's still a world where maybe they're not viewed as equal. So what advice would you have for them?

Jenna - 00:24:00: Yeah, well, to be clear, my book isn't about how women have to change. That being said, there are some tips and tricks. So one of them is, I think, for a lot of folks, you might get to a point in your career where you think, okay, I've got kids at home. I've got this job I want to crush. I'm going to focus on those two things to the exclusion of everything else, and everything else kind of falls by the wayside, and that makes some sense and logic in some form or fashion. But what happens if all of a sudden you start to feel disillusioned with your job, or you realize you're not compensated well, or you want to get an outside board, or you don't have the mentorship or support you need? All of a sudden, it's like, oh, my gosh, I really need to have some visibility outside of just my job. And this is where I think the role of networking is so critical, and especially for women to have people who are sort of a standard deviation or two outside their normal circle of influence so that they do understand what their worth is, so they do have a sense for what their opportunities are. And I interviewed a woman in my book, Jennifer Goldfarb, who is the founder of Ipsy, which is an online beauty company, a billion-dollar company. It's been very successful. And one of the things she shared is that networking for her, she adheres to something that she's called her once-a-month rule. I've renamed it taking yourself on a Work date once a month, which takes a few hours to invest in yourself. That can be meeting a mentor for lunch, that can be going to an industry event, that can be going to an alumni event, or whatever it might be. I think networking sometimes gets a dirty name and people think, oh, it's awkwardly standing around a hotel ballroom exchanging business cards. But no, that's not what networking is. Networking is about helping other people and hopefully having people see that you have valuable skills to contribute to the world. But I would say, moreover, that really, any woman who's tried to climb the ranks at work will one time or another be given advice on how she needs to act differently. Like, don't show too much emotion, don't be too assertive, and don't talk about your family. Until about five or six years ago, one of the big four had a rule that said that all women needed to wear pantyhose. I mean, I feel like the list of rules has bordered on the absurd. And again, I think we need to get away from fixing women and start looking at the actions and attitudes of companies, and the narrative really is what needs to change.

Megan - 00:26:12: So are there any common misconceptions about women in CFO positions that you'd like to address?

Jenna - 00:26:20: I don't know that I know of a common misperception, but again, I would say that the women I interviewed in my book were successful for being who they are, not by what people expect them to be. One of the many amazing women I interviewed in the book is Dame Vivian Hunt, who was formerly the vice chair of McKinsey, the leading global consulting firm. She's now the Chief Innovation Officer at UnitedHealthcare. And one of the things she shared in her interview with me was that early in her career, she had kind of a preconceived notion of how she was supposed to show up and what she was supposed to say, and what she was supposed to do. And she didn't let her full, authentic self come through. But as she got a little bit more senior and she realized through 360 feedback that people really wanted to know her as a total person, she gathered the confidence to let down her mask, and that's really when her career took off. And I think this is important to think about, whether you're a CFO or another functional officer. People don't want to work for a robot. They want to work for a real human being who can empathize with what they might be going through. And so I think that's just something that's really important to keep in mind. And one other thing I would say that is important, especially for younger women to keep in mind too, is the importance of sponsorship. So we hear a lot about mentorship that gets a lot of airtime, but a sponsor is different from a mentor. A mentor is somebody who you admire, you look up to, you want to emulate, and that's great. But a sponsor is somebody who has influence in the organization, who will create opportunities for you, who you will work very hard to make look good in reciprocity for that they will help you shine inside the company, outside the company. And I think we need to be thinking about formalized sponsorship opportunities for high-potential women within companies.

Megan - 00:28:08: Any advice on how to go about finding a sponsor within a company? I know sometimes we work hard and then someone else takes the credit for it. So how do you go about finding yourself a true sponsor?

Jenna - 00:28:21: I think it has to be sometimes it just happens opportunistically or serendipitously. But if your company doesn't have a program already lined up, I would say, look around. Who are the people of influence, who you would have natural cause to work with and reach out to them saying, hey, I'd really love to work with you on this project or another, and you can drive that agenda. There's no reason why you have to sit around and wait for somebody else to pair you up. And hopefully, that person will see your worth and be impressed by you, and you'll get more and more opportunities with them. I know earlier in my career, I definitely benefited from having a sponsor. It was not somebody that I necessarily wanted to emulate or be like as a person, except for I really admired his work product, and he's very bright and did excellent work on behalf of our clients, and I really admired that about him. And so I wanted to spend as much time learning osmotically from him as possible. So I just kept finding excuses and opportunities to do that.

Megan - 00:29:23: And how do you see the role of CFO evolving in the next, let's say five to ten years? And what implication does this have for gender diversity?

Jenna - 00:29:32: Yeah, well, I think a lot of companies have gotten really smart about succession planning, particularly larger companies where they can afford to have a bench. And so I do see more and more first-generation CFOs, more women's CFOs. I think another trend that I'm seeing, particularly in this kind of down market, we're living in right now is more of a demand for the CFO skill set as CEOs. So we're seeing an uptick in that. So I think the more that CFOs can really view themselves as business partners helping to run and manage the PnL of a business and organization, the more appealing they'll be, both in more general management kinds of leadership roles as well as for board opportunities.

Megan - 00:30:17: And last question, and you've answered this all throughout, but what can companies do to attract and retain top female talents in finance and then specifically in the CFO role?

Jenna - 00:30:29: Yeah, I think in addition to having women on your succession pipeline list, I think we need to not be biased by somebody who's taken longer to get to the top. I think if we started looking at careers more like webs instead of ladders, and we created environments where people felt psychological safety if they need to walk and not run for a few months or years in their career and allowed longer periods of time for people to reach milestone promotion marks, I think that would go a long way to recapturing folks. I mean, I know I personally have benefited by having women on my team who maybe only did 80% of the assignments that somebody else may have done, but they had three children under the age of five at home and a husband who travels a lot for work. And I'd rather have 75% to 80% of an awesome employee than have 0%. And I think companies need to be really thoughtful about how they create different opportunities for people, because just because you're not in the C-suite by the age of 50 doesn't mean it can't happen. And similarly, I think by creating return-to-work programs, timeouts shouldn't necessarily mean the end of careers. And in my book, I talk about the benefits of various companies, and programs that actively encourage people to take a leave, to pursue something important, whether that's taking care of children or elderly parents or helping to give work to the spouses of our military members who move all over the globe to serve our country. So I think those are a few I have many more items enumerated in my book, but those are a few things that I think about that when you look at CFOs, specifically, more than 50% of people going to public accounting are women, and yet only 17% of CFOs are women. And so I think if we start to think about doing all of these things more broadly, not just for the benefit of finance professionals, but for the benefit of all workers, I think we'll end up seeing more parity in the CFO ranks.

Megan - 00:32:16: I love that view a career as a web and not a ladder. I know personally, mine has been more of a web than a ladder. So I love that analogy. Jenna, thank you so much for being my guest today.

Jenna - 00:32:30: Oh, it's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Megan, and all the best to you.

Megan - 00:32:34: Yeah, I really enjoyed learning about you and I appreciate you taking the time to be here with us today. I wish you all the best with your new book. To all of our listeners, where can they find this book?

Jenna - 00:32:45: Great. To the Top is sold on Amazon at any independent bookstore, all major retailers like Walmart, and Target and you can follow me on LinkedIn. And yeah, I would love to continue to share my gospel.

Megan - 00:33:00: I know I'll be getting a copy of your book. It sounds super interesting. So to all of our listeners, please tune in next week, and until then, take care.

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In this episode, we discuss:

  • Qualities of successful CFOs

  • Barriers to women achieving CFO roles

  • Closing the gender pay gap

  • Empowering women in corporate leadership

  • The importance of networking and investing in yourself

Key Takeaways

Winning Qualities for Aspiring Women CFOs

Quote winning cfo qualities

CFOs who can flex between different leadership competencies, such as pragmatism, vulnerability, and connectedness, are most prone to success. However, when CFOs want to move into CEO roles, they need to learn to be more optimistic as opposed to more pragmatic, and more outspoken as opposed to more subdued.

“Leadership competencies like pragmatism, vulnerability, connectedness, and being quiet are the most predictive of being a successful leader,” Fisher said. - 05:43 - 08:13

Barriers to Women Achieving CFO Roles

Quote Jenna Fisher, Managing Director of Russell Reynolds Associates

The varying life experiences of men and women can contribute to their differing preferences. Women often juggle multiple roles, such as mothers, community volunteers, neighbors, or daughters, and strive to balance their responsibilities effectively. Therefore, they seek innovative ways to work while fulfilling all of these roles efficiently. Companies aiming to attract top talent must recognize this and offer their employees greater autonomy and flexibility.

“Men and women have different experiences in life. And many women wear lots of hats. Yes, we think of ourselves as executives. But we may also think of ourselves as moms, community volunteers, neighbors, or daughters. This new way of working enables women, in particular, to do their jobs as well remotely than by commuting,” Fisher said. - 08:13 - 11:08

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

Quote women cfos closing gender pay gap

During her research for a Fortune 100 company, Jenna discovered that women were earning about 30% less than their male counterparts, with gender being the only factor correlated with this pay gap. This realization prompted her to recognize that companies that fail to provide fair compensation to women risk losing top talent. So businesses must acknowledge existing biases and become more proactive in eradicating stereotypes. Additionally, it is essential to ensure that women are represented at every level of the company's succession pipeline. By doing so, businesses can ensure they attract and retain the best talent, regardless of gender.

“The first thing we all need to do is acknowledge our biases and be more proactive about eradicating stereotypes so that they don't distort the way decisions are made,” Fisher said. - 11:08 - 16:33

Empowering Women in Corporate Leadership - Women CFOs

Quote empowering women cfos in corporate leadership

After observing countless women unable to return to work once having children, Jenna wrote To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success. In the book, she emphasizes that our working system wasn't set up for women to succeed. Companies need to be mindful of that and rethink the career webs and ladders.

“Countless studies prove that companies that have more diverse voices at the table yield better outcomes,” Fisher said. - 16:33 - 18:50

Investing in Yourself for Professional Growth

Quote women cfos investing in themselves for professional growth

Investing in yourself and expressing your authentic self is crucial for professional success. As is building relationships with influential people and creating opportunities for career growth. Networking plays a critical role in this regard, particularly for women, as it enables them to showcase their valuable skills and identify new career opportunities.

“Networking is about helping other people and hopefully having people see that you have valuable skills to contribute to the world,” Fisher said. - 23:41 - 26:12

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