Advice From the Talented Women on Boards

Corporate announcements of the number of women added to public boards of directors increased over 3 fold from September 2005 to September 2006. has been tracking the number of women added to corporate boards of directors since July 2005, when there was only 1 such announcement. In September 2006, there were 25 press releases, bring the total to 237 women added to corporate boards of directors for the previous 12 months.

How did these women do it? The talented women who do serve on boards of directors, today, have been telling us "how to do it" for over a decade. Here is some of their advice.

June 14, 2000 - "How Can Women Gain Top Posts at Top Colleges?" The Chronology of Higher Education: Colloquy Live Liz McMillen (Moderator) interviews Susan Westerberg Prager, then Provost of Dartmouth College:

"Look for people who will be brutally candid with you, because the way we strengthen ourselves is to understand through our own self-evaluation and the helpful comments of others what we do well and what we could have done better."

"... the demanding nature of these jobs today has made people in the search process understandably focus on whether people have truly relevant experience and so I think the reality is that the people whose experience is more directly translateable are likely to be the ones who emerge in those searches."

July 1, 2006 - "To Fill the Pipeline, Change the Frame" by Nan Langowitz,

"We need women to enter and stay in the pipeline at greater rates. To do that, we need to change the frame through which they view the business world. … We need to start teaching young girls and women that business is a place where they can create real value for the world."

"Businesses are the engines of wealth creation and social benefit. If that's not meaningful, then I don't know what is."

July 6, 2006 - "Street Star" -- Citi's Sallie Krawcheck Tells Geoffrey Colvin What it Takes to be CFO of the World's Largest Bank" by Geoffrey Colvin, Fortune Magazine

"As a CFO one has to have the strength of character, the thickness of skin, to be able to deliver bad news as easily as good news."

"As an analyst, I was very comfortable being uncomfortable, and as a CFO I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I have to be fine with delivering bad news."

"So, two lessons from the experience [of taking a year off]. One, if I hadn't taken the time to think about it, I wouldn't have found the right path. And two, you can try to kill a career, but if you're persistent to get back in, there may not be any such thing as career suicide."

"To be a successful analyst, you have to have a healthy ego. You have to embrace the spotlight and say, It's okay for me to be out there and make mistakes."

"… being a research analyst is terrific preparation for being a manager. You have to make a lot of decisions, and every day the market tells you whether you're right or wrong. You do it publicly."

"… if you have a stretch assignment, just take it."

"I grew up in Charleston, a very genteel, very Southern city, a gorgeous city. I will say there's something about going to an all girls school in Charleston that's tougher than Wall Street. You don't know what it's like. I had the glasses, the braces, the corrective shoes. I was half-Jewish, half WASPY. I couldn't have been further outcast. There was nothing they could do to me at Salomon Brothers in the '80s that was worse than the seventh grade."

April 5, 2004 - "'Apprentice' Woman Stereotype Stirs Old Resentment" by Tara Crosson Columbia News Service

Marion O. Sandler, co-founder of Golden West Financial, "said that responding to questions about stereotypes only serves to perpetuate stereotypes."

"Don't fall into that trap. Don't further the stereotype. And don't get yourself segregated into women's groups."

September 2006 - "Success Secrets from America's Most Powerful Women" by Gail Sheehy, Glamour Magazine, p. 268.

"If you're not unbelievably curious about your industry and what's next, you're in the wrong business."

"There's far too much focus on perception and not enough on the reality of their jobs and building their skills."

"[My husband and I] looked at [my changing companies] as an adventure - let's see how it goes."

"I just don't sign up for the idea of struggling so hard to find balance - you miss all the fun. My philosophy is you do the best you can every day."

"… nearly 40 percent of these highly talented women did take time out, but not because they didn't want to work. It was because their careers were stalled or they felt their talents weren't appreciated or fully utilized. … What is key is that a full 93 percent wanted to come back to work, in time."

"The average time out taken by women in our study was only two to two and a half years. But when they came back, they lost 18 percent of their earning power on average. If they were out for three years or more, they lost 37 percent."

"I've been in the private sector, and I've made some money. And I'm going to tell you, making money and having it is a whole lot better! … This business of shying away from talk of money, I think, is a mistake."

"What's important is to educate yourself about your options."

"College teaches you subject matter and how to think; it doesn't teach you how to be an employee. A lot of women see themselves in a career but have no concept of the politics in that field."

"If you're smart, you will develop relationships with people of influence who will watch your back and speak up for you when you hit the inevitable obstacle."

"Resilience, flexibility, and the ability to work hard. You don't get to the top without working incredibly tough, long hours, taking on extra assignments and showing you can do things you've never done before. "

"It's important to choose a partner who wants you to be your best."

"Young women I see believe there's no glass ceiling."

"If you act like you expect opportunities, people are more likely to give them to you. "

"Look for role models and mentors who believe in you, then focus on being worthy of their support."

"Our new hires - women and men - have an unbelievably singular focus on being really good at what they do. They've learned that they have to prove themselves."

"[To lead, you have to have to have] the requisite skills to do the job well and … [gain] the respect and confidence of colleagues."

"Always deliver great results. . . your work quality consistently exceeds expectations."

"You have to be patient. … So many women get discouraged and quit. It's easy to take your ball and go home and say this situation isn't fair. You'd probably be right - life isn't fair. But you need to engage in the fight and keep playing."

"Many have a sense of entitlement - it's bizarre. For their whole life, teachers and parents have told them they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. When they hit a few hard knocks, they fall flat."

"… we're not in a playground. … You've got to toughen up. … I know that sounds harsh, but life is hard. Nothing about it is fair."

June 1, 2006 - "What Women Want." By Alix Nyberg Stuart, CFO Magazine

"… the 35 female CFOs in the Fortune 500 [2006] represent a 350 percent gain from 1995, the first year CFO magazine conducted the survey, when only 10 women held the title."

"… women have been pouring into the financial pipeline for decades. For more than 20 years they have outnumbered men in undergraduate and graduate accounting programs, and comprised the majority of new hires by public accounting firms. For the past decade, they have earned 30 to 40 percent of all MBAs."

"Eighty-three percent of men think [the glass ceiling] doesn't [exist]…. Virtually no one thinks women lack the skills or talent for the CFO job."

"GE has become much more diverse in the past decade… [Lynn Calpeter was] CFO of NBC's Television Stations Division. Two years later, Keith Sherin appointed her to head GE's Corporate Audit Staff (CAS). Two of the 5 CFOs at other GE businesses, Kathryn McCarthy at GE Healthcare and Maive Scully at GE Consumer Finance, are women, as are 6 of NBC Universal's 14 operating CFO."

"Breaking into this elite group . . . takes stamina. In the Fortune 500, most of the female CFOs have either served as CFOs at other companies or moved up within their own companies."

"…the CFO is typically the CEO's closest confidant and CEOs want to feel very comfortable with the person they choose for that role."

"For the women who stay at one company, the key is to keep moving around within that company…"

"…to be challenged and satisfied I'd have to have a diversity of roles."

"a major career milestone [was when] I learned I could do something I didn't know anything about."

"When you're talking about senior jobs, you need intellectual and technical capability. But what increasingly makes the difference are leadership competencies."

"…many of the women who have made it --- have not followed traditional routes."

"… making it to CFO - and beyond - takes a special determination."

"Women who are seriously interested in being CEOs can't stay in finance their whole careers… and they've got to fight for those [outside] roles."

"…many women claim they have never felt stigmatized by gender."

"Being a female has had no impact on my career at all…. I don't think gender is an important factor."

"You get incredible pushback as CFO… and it takes a lot of endurance to maintain a strong presence over time."

"Men apparently have a fairly rosy view of what women can do. Most [62%] don't think women are at a disadvantage in any areas relevant to becoming CFO."

"People talk about having it all, and I always want to tell them I don't."

"… women have more control over their finance-career choices."

August 1, 1998 -, "More Room at the Top" by Julie Carrick Dalton, CFO Magazine

"I didn't choose her because she's a woman, although I do appreciate the diversity she adds. I didn't give a hoot that she's a woman. Maybe that I didn't care is a subtle message about how things have changed. It's a competitive world, and to get the best people you have to look beyond white males."

"Sixty-six of the Fortune 500 companies [1998], in fact, now have female treasurers, compared with 63 in 1995, and 53 have female controllers, compared with 35 three years ago. "

"Of the 23 female CFOs in the Fortune 500 [1998], 9 are listed among the top five wage earners at their firms, with an average salary and bonus of $653,612."

". . . most of the women interviewed actually downplay the role of gender in their careers. "

"Generally, the things that make a woman successful are the same things that make a man successful. I can't point to anything that hurt me because I was a woman, or that helped me because I was a woman. "

"Others even consider discussion of their gender irrelevant."

"I'll be happy the day statistics like this [the number of female CFOs] aren't news anymore."

"… women have become very proactive about their careers. They've figured out that to move to the CFO office, you need line experience, and they've sought out those roles."

"Such experience, say other women, can be supplemented in several ways to gain an edge on the competition. One is to demonstrate an appetite for risk, and a tolerance for it."

"You have to go where the bullets are. If you want a high-profile job, you have to go where there's a bigger chance of failing."

"… intentionally taking the difficult path gets women noticed."

"People assume men naturally want challenges; women have to seek them out."

"Another important factor is the ability to blow your own horn."

"The name of the game is marketing/PR. Men have done it for years, but women have finally caught on. They're getting on the same page as men in terms of being visible to the external world. … That kind of training … isn't natural for women. But they're learning."

"And part of that public relations campaign… is making yourself known to the right people."

"So when a position came up, they couldn't say that I didn't have the qualifications, because they knew I'd done the tasks."

"… the smaller the company, the more likely you are to succeed."

"The pipeline theory… is subscribed to by most of the women interviewed."

"It takes a while for women to have enough experience to compete successfully for CFO-level jobs. But as time goes on, more and more women will have the requisite experience."

"One indication… is the evening out of the treasurers and controllers. … Many women in the past have gravitated toward treasury [where] results are so visible that they transcend gender."

"Today [1998], however, there are 115 female treasurers and 109 controllers - a trend that … illustrates the aggressiveness with which women are managing their careers."

"Women have recognized that it is frequently through the control side that CFOs are named, so they've sought out control-side experience to broaden their backgrounds to fully qualify them for the CFO role."

"Anecdotal evidence indicates that high-tech companies … have a disproportionately large percentage of female executives, particularly CFOs. With their young workforces and fast-paced environment, technology companies as a group appear more likely to ignore gender in the quest to find the best people."

"In the world I run in - high tech, high growth - people are so hungry for talent, gender is not a consideration. There's such a meritocracy."

"… stands firmly in the camp that believes obstacles exist only if you let them."

"There are no barriers for women. Every barrier is just a challenge. They help you think creatively. If a woman financial executive wants it, the jobs are there for the taking."

"No one ever helped me. I did it myself."

"We don't train women to believe they can do the things they are capable of, but that's slowly changing."

August 1995 - "Uncommon Women" by Laura Walbert, CFO Magazine,: Volume 11, Issue 8, page 34, 7 pages

"There are a total of 10 women CFOs in Fortune 500 companies [1995]."

"… as women enter the 'pipeline' in greater numbers, their numbers at the top will increase."

"Some 55 [percent] of the undergraduate accounting degrees are awarded to women, as are 35 percent of the MBAs."

"… the major accounting firms, the traditional training ground for financial executives, report that for the past decade, close to half of their incoming classes have been women."

"… companies are not blind to the capabilities of women candidates."

"There are very few instances where the woman was the strongest candidate on the slate and she didn't get the job."

"… the key to winning the CFO title is the ability to be a business partner, not just a financial person."

"The CFO is the clearinghouse for the interpretation of the financial condition of the company… and any financial person worth his or her salt has to make sure that the executives understand what the numbers are saying… you have to establish the right relationships with the other executives in the company. So it's not just a technical position."

"In the Fortune 500, … there are 63 female treasurers compared with 35 corporate controllers [1995]."

"… on the treasury side. . . "It's easier to deal with traders and manage and move money. That's more of a back-office function: the position is more comfortable for women."

"You find more women in treasury because it's quantifiable; if you're good, you're good. There are fewer women in the other areas of finance because it's less measurable. It's more how well you can network, how you work with people, how you interface."

"For advancement purposes, however, treasury can be a trap for women because it deprives them of knowledge of the business."

"By definition, if you're a good controller you get into the business a lot more, and you really are a partner with the CEO of the division. Treasurers don't always have that opportunity."

"… she asked [the CFO] what it would take to win his job. He advised her to get out in the field and earn some stripes through controllership experience."

"That proved to the powers-that-be that I was able to run a business."

"Judging from the evidence, the most effective career path for women is the road less traveled. Most of the women CFO interviewed, in fact, prefaced their career history with the comment, 'I did something unusual.'"

"That was an opportunity to use my sales skills as well as my financial talents to present a fresh, bold face up on Wall Street with the bankers. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm not afraid of anything anymore."

"I became a very strange creature, a finance person who understood enough about the business to speak the language of the marketing and sales organization."

"When I went to school, the 'achievers' didn't go to business school. They went into sciences. …once in the work force it was pretty obvious that the achievers were being managed by those with business degrees. That realization quickly led many women to seek MBAs."

"Finance is a pretty homogeneous, traditional function, without many women. You almost have to have taken a different path or have done something that makes you stand out. Unless you do something unique, you probably don't have the opportunity to ever be noticed."

"The CEO is looking for an adviser and confident. It's a very delicate and important relationship. … It's the comfort level. A lot of the match between CEO and CFO is personality."

"[Gender] is simply not an issue. That had nothing to do with the decision…. I had three candidates for the job. I just went right down the matrices of all the skills that were required and [the female candidate] had the best skills."

"Women tend to do behind-the-scenes work more than they have to."

"And women often deflect praise to the group rather than accept it for themselves."

"You see women [deflect praise]. You want to nudge them under the table and say, 'Accept it. Take it and run.'"

"As CFO, [she] had to learn not to blame herself when something did not work out, and instead cut her losses."

"The best piece of advice I ever got from [my boss] was to go with my instincts. This freed me to do things as I thought they should be done. And it turned out to be the most valuable career and personal life lesson I've ever had."

"You can't have it both ways [the so-called 'work-family balance']."

"Most [women interviewed] said that at some point, their credentials and competence mattered more than their gender."

"I realized I had reached a point where it wasn't whether I was a woman or not, but more the quality of my work."

For further information or to schedule a presentation about the 2006 Survey of Women on Boards of California-Based Fortune 1000 Firms, for your company/organization, contact:

Elizabeth Ghaffari
Champion Boards . . . a service of Technology Place Inc.
Tel: 310-396-9863