Magazine for Senior Financial Executives: We Need to Talk – Brief Article – Editorial

We Need to Talk – Brief Article – Editorial – Statistical Data Included

AMERICA IS DIVERSE. MY OWN NEW ENGLAND FARM-TOWN suburb boasts a Korean church, a Moslem cultural center, and sizable populations of Asian and African-American professionals. Even George W. Bush’s cabinet looks diverse.

Yet talking about diversity still makes people squirm, particularly in a corporate setting. Companies are as loath to tout their successes in this area as they are to admit their shortcomings. And minorities who have reached the top in finance are often reluctant to discuss the impact of race or ethnicity on their experiences. While such reticence is understandable, we need to talk about these things nonetheless, if the barriers to inclusion are to crumble for future generations.

Companies see themselves as meritocracies. While executive posts rarely go to those who aren’t fit for them, the ladder to the top is always an easier climb for the candidates with the best connections. Old-school ties, shared job histories, and common backgrounds act as a de facto–and potent–affirmative-action program for white males. Overt acts of racism are far less common than they once were. But the tendency to promote what is familiar means that minorities face discrimination every time an applicant pool is compiled.

The situation for women is somewhat better. Since 1995, when we completed our first report on women in finance, the number of women CFOs in the Fortune 500 has climbed from 10 to 24, with a total of 134 in the controller, treasurer, and CFO slots. The results for minorities are far more dismal. As senior editor Roy Harris reports in “The Illusion of Inclusion” (page 42), only 14 minorities occupy CFO ranks; there are only 28 altogether in the top three finance slots.

Changing these results will require many more open-minded CEOs and CFOs to recognize that multicultural workforces are essential in a global environment. And it will require all of us to stop squirming.


COPYRIGHT 2001 CFO Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group