Laura Newinski, KPMG U.S. deputy chair and chief operating officer, said she was struck by the percentage of companies surveyed with a woman in the CFO role: just 13%. In her work with the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, Newinski added, she’s become familiar with the incredible progress women can make when consistent and holistic attention is paid to the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women at all stages of their careers.
“To me, this demonstrates that women need support throughout their careers—not just at moments in time, but in all moments that matter throughout the careers of women,” she said.
Grabowski said she’s heard from women finance leaders who see their own experiences reflected in the study’s findings—and the role everyone can play to “pay it forward” by creating sponsorship and mentorship opportunities.
“As women, it’s incumbent on us to do that, but it’s also incumbent on us to encourage and enable our male colleagues to do the same,” she said. “That’s so critical given that we still are in a world where most of the folks at the top are males.”
Women CFOs Bring a Variety of Leadership Traits
Sheryl Estrada, a senior writer at Fortune who wrote about BCG’s research in January, said three findings stood out: The markedly different—and more cautious—way women CFOs communicate to capital markets; the correlation between women leaders and better financial performance via their resiliency and innovation; and women’s nontraditional paths to the office of the CFO.
Estrada said women leaders excel in their ability “to influence through networking, listening, and cross-functional collaboration, which has really become so important in these times of economic uncertainty.”
Citing an interview with the woman CFO of a Fortune 500 company, Estrada said the finance leader identified listening, asking questions, and not leaping to conclusions as some of her most important actions after taking the role. “A lot of female CFOs echoed that the networking, listening, and learning skills are very important,” Estrada said.
Such traits are increasingly important in a fast-changing world, Grabowski said.
“We live in a world where business cycles are going to be shortening. The changes that are happening in the business environment ripple through the economy faster than ever before,” she said. “And the only way to thrive in an environment like that is to be highly connected within your organization in order to respond quickly—any particular part of the business in a silo can’t solve the problems we’re facing as a world today on their own. You have to work together across the business.”
Women leaders who add a breadth of experience to the finance function also bring more innovation, according to the BCG study.
“Organizations with a female CFO tend to drive a higher percentage of their revenue from innovation initiatives,” Grabowski said. That includes new products and services—“things that are innovative and new to their company and to the marketplace.”