Change from the Top Down: McIntire Alumnae CFOs on Career Challenges in Finance

McIntire’s leading global business education has helped produce some of the world’s most innovative and visionary executives. And as we continue to delve into the efforts of women in finance, we now turn our attention to the important work and accomplishments of female CFOs who are making a difference.

Headshots of women in finance

In support of the McIntire School’s mission to promote a diverse and richly competitive workforce across the business marketplace, we are committing to highlight important achievements of women working in the financial services sector. According to Forbes, women comprise nearly half of financial service employees but account for only 15% of executives, despite the fact that women investors routinely outperform their male counterparts. Furthermore, financial data company Preqin has found that only 9% of private equity investment team positions are held by women, and that only 4% of women on hedge fund portfolio management teams ever reach senior investment roles. At McIntire, women represent 43% of the average class at enrollment, and 33% choose Finance as a concentration, with the financial services sector offering some of the highest paying jobs for new Commerce graduates. Dedicated to transforming and elevating the finance industry, the McIntire School provides a robust educational foundation for our students interested in the field.

McIntire’s leading global business education has helped produce some of the world’s most innovative and visionary executives. And as we continue to delve into the efforts of women in finance, we now turn our attention to the important work and accomplishments of female CFOs who are making a difference.

To understand the many challenges associated with being a woman in a leadership finance position, while noting the positive strides made in diversity—along with examining areas with room for improvement—we spoke with five prominent Comm School alumnae executives in the field: Michelle Clatterbuck (McIntire ’90), Executive Vice President and CFO of Intuit; Teri Gendron (McIntire ’91), CFO of Jefferies Financial Group; Shannon Nash (McIntire ’92, Law ’95), CFO of Insidesource; Leeny Oberg (McIntire ’82), Executive Vice President and CFO of Marriott International; and Karen Seminara (McIntire ’94), CFO of Viacom’s Nickelodeon Group.

In your estimation, how has being a woman impacted your career path to becoming a CFO?
Clatterbuck: While I realize many women face barriers that prevent them from growing their career, I have not experienced my gender affecting my personal career success. Sure, I’m a woman, but I lead our financial organization because of my abilities and experience. And when I’m in a room with my industry peers, Intuit’s leadership team, or my team, I trust that others are not interacting or evaluating because of my gender.

Unfortunately, many women have a much different experience, and it’s typically not as simple as what I’ve described.

As I reflect upon my career and ask myself what’s different about my experience, it’s clear I’ve been surrounded by people—men and women—who have sponsored and mentored me. These mentors had my best interests in mind. They ensured I was always developing as a leader, but more importantly, they modeled a world of inclusivity. Although there are limited women in finance around me, these mentors gave me resources, opportunities, and a community.

Fundamentally, we must change the conversation about being a “woman CFO” to “she’s a CFO.” When we’re great at our craft, it should speak for itself.

Gendron: Being a woman has had an important impact on my career path; however, it has been more about where I have chosen to make my path.

Throughout my career, each time I considered making a move, I weighed heavily the culture of the organization and its acceptance and support of women. Knowing I wanted to go only where I could be successful, there were many times that I passed on what many would consider a great opportunity. Each time it has paid off, as I later found another great opportunity in an accepting environment.

I would not say that being a woman played a part in becoming a CFO. It was the logical next step in a series of steps that many have followed to the CFO spot. Rather, being a woman played a part in my coming to Jefferies to be its CFO, because I found it to be an environment that is supportive and fair to women.

Nash: I’m not sure I look at it in the way my gender impacted my career. It’s more about how life choices and non-choices have impacted my career. In many respects, those choices are probably things that impact women disproportionately to men (e.g., taking time off to take care of a child).

I look at the world through the challenges women face on a daily basis. Have I been in situations in which:

  • My opinions were dismissed, only to have someone else take credit for them?
  • I’ve said something and then someone has stated my same point but in a different way?
  • Someone has talked over me when I’m trying to make a point or share my views?
  • I have been the recipient of “mansplaining” (the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing)?

Sure! But those experiences, I think, have made me stronger and more empathetic regarding my own communication style for leading my diverse teams.

Oberg: I have not approached my finance career with my gender in mind. I chose finance as a career path after college because I enjoyed my Finance classes at McIntire the most—the interplay between the always dynamic capital markets and determining how a business can best compete for the capital it needs to build a successful business was fascinating to me. Like many women and men, I had to work hard along the way to try to have a career path that balanced work and family obligations.

Seminara: Being a woman has never impacted my career aspirations, although at times, it has certainly impacted decisions I have made about the timing of career advancement opportunities.

When I became a mom, I partnered with my boss to redefine my work schedule, pioneering a flex schedule at NBC Universal. I worked three days a week for the next four years, during which time I welcomed my second child. When I added a fourth day, I immediately earned a promotion to Vice President. I continued working four days a week for the next 10 years, becoming a CFO on my flex schedule. In fact, when I left NBC Universal in 2011 and joined Viacom, I maintained the same four-day week schedule, this time as the CFO of Nickelodeon. Regardless of my gender, the opportunity was won with demonstrated hard work, commitment, leadership, and patience.

While it is true that I evaluate career decisions as both a woman and a mother, I believe the factors that weigh into my decision making apply across genders and family structures. Does an opportunity advance my skill set? Does it position me for continued growth in the organization? Will I be working for a respected manager? Do I have the opportunity to develop talent and lead a high-performing team? Will this opportunity work for my family?

What do you think that your company or industry is doing well to increase diversity?
Nash: I think this is an amazing time in the industry, when the candidates and workforce are extremely diverse at the entry level. I also think there are a lot of smart people looking at diversity and inclusion in the finance industry. Studies have shown companies with diverse teams outperform those with less diversity, so it’s no longer proving that diversity is needed, but universally accepted.

My company has invested time and money in resources aimed at advancing diversity and promoting women. For the past few years, we have sponsored the LWT WILpower program, which is a year-long leadership development and coaching program for women. Through efforts like these, companies can have a major impact in creating opportunities for diverse leaders and in showing a commitment to retaining top talent.

Oberg: Marriott International is an outstanding example of a company that emphasizes the importance of diversity to be successful. Marriott has one of the most diverse workforces in the United States, with 66% minorities and 55% women. Over 40% of the top 1,000 Marriott leaders are women—including the C-suite at 44%—and we have established a goal to achieve parity in gender representation for global leadership by 2025. We have also had a Committee for Excellence for the last 25 years that focuses on management’s commitment to diversity. This committee reports to our board of directors on a regular basis regarding our targets for diversity of race and gender and our success against those targets.

Clatterbuck: Supporting women in the workplace and achieving gender parity among female employees are top priorities at Intuit. However, diversity is a fact, and inclusion is a choice. It’s critical for companies’ employees to be diverse, but inclusion ensures they stay. Companies need to be focused on both.

This includes ensuring that we invest in building equity to women and minority groups who have had less power historically. For example, we’ve built powerful programs and partnerships to attract, recruit, and retain women at all stages of their careers.

To attract and recruit top talent, we are intentional about partnering with organizations that are increasing awareness and educating girls and women interested in careers in technology. One program I love is called “Intuit Again.” It helps technologists brush up on their skills so they can jump back into the workforce after spending a period of time at home.

And finally, to retain talent—and ensure we’re fostering an inclusive environment—we’ve taken this one step further by measuring “belonging,” whether employees perceive they are included. This data is available to managers who are responsible for fostering inclusive teams and allows Intuit’s staff to calibrate to ensure teams are both diverse and inclusive. In 2018, we launched our “Leading Inclusivity” training. This program saw our top 400 leaders participate in unconscious bias training and workshops that help mitigate bias in the hiring process, such as remaining objective and maintaining a growth mindset. Intuit is an ally and continuously creates new workforce initiatives and measures for diversity and belonging.

Seminara: Viacom is incredibly focused on and committed to diversity and inclusion. This focus is reflected in hiring practices, vendor selection, and talent selection for roles in front of and behind the camera. Regarding hiring, managers participate in training on inclusive hiring and unconscious bias. In addition, recruiters are required to present a diverse slate of candidates for all open roles.

For employees, the week of Sept. 16 kicks off Viacom Inclusion Week, a week of events and experiences exploring the power of inclusion, diversity, and belonging. Diversity and inclusion is such a high priority at Viacom that it’s a factor impacting incentive compensation payouts. Specifically, the focus is on attracting and retaining diverse talent, and creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

Gendron: Jefferies believes that diversity fosters creativity, innovation, and thought leadership. We have made a true commitment to building a culture that provides opportunities for all our employees. In addition to the necessities of more diverse hiring, mentoring, and networking programs, we have taken the next step to train employees to understand unconscious biases and put formalized programs in place to recognize high-performing women. Of interest to McIntire students today are two symposiums designed to bring in diverse candidates for our summer internship program:

1. Our Inspiring Women for Finance Symposium hosts undergraduate sophomore women interested in learning more about the finance industry. This program has helped us to increase our percentage of female summer interns in the United States from 10% in 2016 to 30% in 2019 (with the goal of achieving 50% in 2020).

2. Our inaugural Next Generation Diversity Symposium, which hosts undergraduate freshman and sophomore Black and Latino students. This program led to 12 summer intern offers to Black and Hispanic students for the summer of 2020. We also established a highly selective fellowship program in which five diverse college freshmen receive a financial stipend, mentoring by Jefferies senior managers, and access to training courses.

What could your company or the industry as a whole do better to support women?
Seminara: In my experience, the media and entertainment industry is very supportive of hiring, retaining, and developing women. At Viacom, 56% of the total workforce is women, and 40% of corporate executives are women. Viacom offers generous parental leave policies and opportunities for telecommuting, and provides resources to assist with back-up childcare. There are also high-profile leadership development opportunities for women in media. One of the most prestigious of these programs in media and entertainment is the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute, designed to elevate women leaders within the industry. Each year, Viacom proudly sponsors women for participation in this highly selective program.

Oberg: The hospitality industry has made significant strides in diversity, but there are still some disciplines that don’t have as strong a balance of women leaders or as much racial diversity. Top leaders play a big role in changing this—it’s amazing to see the impact when leaders make it clear to their teams that diversity is an imperative, not an abstract talking point. Also, building bridges for women and minorities to develop relationships in companies and the industry makes a clear difference in helping them progress in their careers.

Gendron: There is still a lot of work to be done. Here are a few ideas:

  • Address training and development needs: Hone the specific training and development programs for women and provide access to mentors.
  • Re-entry programs: Introduce programming dedicated to re-attracting women who have left the workforce.
  • Flexible work hours: Offer employees the autonomy to work flexible work schedules (which promotes increased work-life balance and prolongs careers).
  • Fair compensation: Avoid a gender pay gap (equal pay for equal work).
  • Fair promotion process: Eliminate bias in annual reviews and promotion decisions.
  • Female representation on succession plans: Financial services firms need to ensure adequate representation of women on succession plans at all company levels (including the board).
  • Tailored healthcare benefits: Enhance family healthcare benefits, including maternity/fertility support.
  • Manage bias: Offer ongoing training on unconscious bias, and promote an open discussion around biases in management, hiring, and promotions.

Clatterbuck: From a financial perspective, supporting women—which includes hiring, developing, mentoring and retaining—is better for our bottom line. At Intuit, we know that 40% of small businesses are owned by women, and women influence or manage 85% of all consumer purchases. We can’t fail; we must create and market products to both genders. First, ensuring that your workforce, including leadership levels, reflects diversity is one of the best ways to ensure this happens.

Second, sponsorship and mentorship have played a critical role in my career. I hope all women find access to the community they need, especially as they take on more leadership roles. The industry has a pipeline problem, with fewer and fewer women making it into leadership roles. When allies, mentors, and sponsors commit to investing in women, we begin to flip the script.

Last, the industry as a whole has been focused on diversity metrics for years, but if you look at the numbers, the improvement has stagnated. Companies are often so focused on attracting diverse talent, they forget that it’s also their job to build the diverse talent they already have. Invest in people managers and equip teams with the tools they need to increase belonging and develop all leaders, regardless of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation, or background.

Nash: Hiring diverse candidates is important, and having processes that ensure diverse candidates are included in the candidate pipeline is critical, but those are only part of the solution. Companies and the industry as a whole need to really invest in retention programs and in creating cultures that not only support advancement of women but celebrate and promote that as well.

It’s human nature to want to be around people who look and think like you and share similar backgrounds and experiences. The same is certainly true for women. This is a major way to attract other women to your company. These retention programs must include some component of mentorship, but it’s a mistake, in my opinion, to think only women can best mentor other women. My best mentor was a man, hands down.

Diversity is no longer something owned by HR as a compliance issue; it has to come from the top—CEO and board. Otherwise, it’s just lip service. And for managers, in particular, how they are living and supporting these values and vision should be a part of their performance metrics and compensation. This approach is truly helpful in creating accountability.

Bottom line: If diversity and inclusion is important to you, you have to work hard at it!

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