Skip to main content
Nov 29, 2017

Female CFO pipeline slows in 2017, says Deloitte

Number of women reporting to the CFO drops in 2017

The number of women making up what Deloitte says is ‘arguably an important resource pool for the next generation of CFOs’ has dropped over the last three years, according to the firm’s latest CFO Signals research.

While CFOs in the research give a ‘wide range of responses’ when asked how many direct reports they have, Deloitte says the most common gender split in Q3 2017 is six men and one woman. This is a drop from Q1 2014, when the most common gender combination stood at five men and two women. 

The report authors also highlight some possibly familiar numbers: that in the US ‘women earn more than half of college degrees in accounting, and hold more than half of accounting and auditing positions. Yet, as of January 2017, women occupy only 61 CFO positions within the Fortune 500 (12.5 percent), a decline from 2015, when women accounted for 13.8 percent of such positions.’

Despite this, there has been progress, add the researchers, citing the fact that women held only 6.8 percent of Fortune 500 CFO positions in 2006. But with a growing interest from investors in board and C-suite diversity, as well as research showing that having women in senior positions gives company performance a boost, you might expect numbers to be growing rather than falling. So what Deloitte wants to know is: what factors are at play regarding women’s progress toward the C-suite?

‘The disparity between women’s strong presence at the entry level versus their smaller presence at the top defies a single, straight-line conclusion. Instead, it’s likely a confluence of factors,’ write the report authors. They add that two factors in particular ‘may merit more attention from CFOs than they have received to date’: the matter of ‘unconscious bias’ and research showing that women are ‘less likely than men to pursue a role if they don’t meet the full set of stated qualifications’, often waiting for a ‘nod of approval’ rather than simply ‘going for it’.

These findings are similar to those uncovered by IR Magazine earlier this year, when research uncovered a gender gap at the top levels of IR

Of course, barriers to becoming CFO are varied and the authors add that ‘attaining work/life balance, overcoming behavioral biases, and the simple fact that there are finite CFO roles in the Fortune 500 still come into play.’

Looking back on its own research from 2009, when Deloitte conducted in-depth interviews with 15 leading female CFOs across the US and Europe, the researchers point to five ‘essential CFO traits’ that help to build the ‘total package’ Fortune 500 companies are looking for, adding that the observations made in 2009 remain valid today and apply to all those with their eyes on the CFO role: 

  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Perseverance
  • Confidence 
  • Ethical responsibility.

Of course, skills matter, too and Deloitte highlights four areas essential to the CFO role – communications & sales skills, approachability, negotiation & conflict resolution and the ability to influence change – while also adding that the right relationships can make all the difference, recommending networking, mentoring and finding a boss you can learn from.

Garnet Roach

An award-winning journalist, Garnet Roach joined IR Magazine in October 2012, working on both the editorial and research sides of the publication. Prior to entering the world of investor relations, her freelance career covered a broad range of...