• BS - Women in Leadership

    Twenty-four. That's the number of women who hold CEO positions at companies in 2014's Fortune 500. Twenty-four out of 500-it's a pretty dismal number, representing a mere 5 percent of the total. Yet the fastest path to growing the number of women in the C-suite may not be to focus on institutional barriers. Rather, we ought to take a closer look at women who are succeeding and the reasons behind their success.

    Increasingly, these women are drawn from finance and IT.

    Last year, there were 54 female CFOs at S&P 500 companies, a record high for large U.S. companies. The highest-paid CFO anywhere—male or female—was Safra Catz of Oracle. More than just green eye-shaded wearing bottom-line obsessives, CFOs have now become leaders in the boardroom, bringing strong analytical and data-driven skills traditional CEOs often lack.

    That is why they are more and more often making the once rare leap to the corner office. PepsiCo's Indra K. Nooyi, for one, worked her way up to CFO before taking the top spot. Nooyi believes the modern financial and compliance environment is creating more opportunities for those with specialized expertise in valuation, risk management and budgeting. "The reason CFOs became considered for CEOs at all is because regulations, Sarbanes-Oxley, confused…boards and CEOs," she toldthe Wall Street Journal.

    IT is also increasingly important to modern enterprise, and can provide a rapid path to responsibility and leadership. Unfortunately, it's also an area where women are chronically underrepresented. The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) released a comprehensive report showing that women earned 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees but only 18 percent of computing diplomas. A Gartner report showed that the number of women CIOs has remained static at 14 percent globally over the past decade.

    Yet women who have the IT chops are rising fast. GE CIO Jamie Miller, for example, noted that 50 percent of GE's businesses also have women CIOs. GE has made diversity and mentorship programs a priority, helping talent thrive. As businesses continue to transform their IT, migrating infrastructure to the cloud, technical skills will be increasingly important. Creating a great opportunity for women trained as information security analysts or software developers, both fields expected to grow by double digits in coming decades according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Without question, the number of women in CEO and other leadership roles is disproportionately low, and much remains to be done to reduce institutional and other barriers. Yet some trails to the top have already been blazed, and an urgent challenge is to help more gifted and committed women excel in finance and innovate in IT. They will be tomorrow's business leaders.

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