Cowen Partners recently issued a study, Cowen Partners CFO Movement Study 2022. As a follow-up to the study, this paper presents a review of the literature on CFOs of color hiring trends, diving deeper into the how and why behind the statistics.
Here are some theories that may support the findings of the CFO Movement Study 2022:
It is important to understand what essential skill sets are needed for accounting and finance professionals to be successful as CFOs before going into a deeper dive into the key theories discussed in this paper. The paper will conclude with a discussion about programs and practices that can develop a diverse pipeline of candidates for CFO positions available among organizations.
It is important to provide some background on what skill sets are essential for CFOs to be successful in their positions.
Skill sets of CFOs have evolved to meet the business needs of organizations. Gone are the days when accounting and finance professionals can be considered as CFOs as a result of having a degree in those disciplines, along with years of experience performing typical accounting and finance tasks. According to various resources, here are the skill sets that CEOs of organizations are expecting for CFOs to have to be effective in their role:
A CFO needs to have a broad company perspective as they are no longer confined to the finance department. CFOs have to be more strategic and assist the CEO in new opportunities, taking on more of a business partner status.
Functioning as a business partner is a common trait noted in various sources that refers to the essential skill sets of a CFO. A CFO must excel at forming and maintaining business partnerships across the organization and between key functional areas. It is an expectation for senior-level executives below the C-suite level to collaborate cross-functionally with human resources, technology, sales and marketing, and customer service professionals.
Correlation of Business Risks and Technology
Ash Noah, VP & Managing Director at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), described the relationship between business risks and technology when interviewed by Business Insider; 9 Skills CFOs Need to Succeed in the Future (businessinsider.com). He emphasized the importance of CFOs collaborating with CEOs to identify how business models can be disrupted by technology by regularly asking the question, “Who is going to put me out of business tomorrow?”
Identification of Non-Financial Factors Impacting Business Models
It is expected for accounting and finance professionals at all levels to have strong analytical skills as it relates to financial factors. Business models have expanded in recent years to include non—financial factors that have an impact on an organization’s sustainability. CFOs should be evaluating an organization’s intangible assets and intellectual property to determine its potential for value creation.
Talent Acquisition and Retention
It has always been expected for CFOs to manage the costs related to employees, specifically salaries, bonuses, health care benefits, and professional development as there is usually a specific budget for those costs. CFOs are currently expected to go beyond the numbers as it relates to employee costs, collaborating with HR professionals to ensure that money is invested in top talent among employees, and programs are in place to retain such talent.
Here is an analysis of this study’s key theories that may support key findings in the study (Cowen Partners CFO Movement Study 2022).
Organizations have been in recent years, focusing on expanding their efforts with talent acquisition as part of their journeys with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Employees from underrepresented groups have been revealing insights on DEI surveys that there are no equitable opportunities for them to be informed about internal job opportunities that may result in promotions. This key finding has been confirmed based on a study the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) conducted with the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA); Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent: A Critical Imperative to Achieve Transformational Outcomes. The study can be found at https://www.imanet.org/insights-and-trends/the-future-of-management-accounting/diversifying-us-accounting-talent-a-critical-imperative-to-achieve-transformational-outcomes. The study was based on 3,200 responses from current and former accounting and finance professionals throughout the U.S.
Below is a table from the study referred to in an article in Strategic Finance, Closing the Diversity Gap – Strategic Finance (sfmagazine.com) that confirms that only 33% of female respondents of all ethnicities believe that the accounting and finance professions provide an equitable and inclusive environment.
There have always been internal promotions taking place among organizations. However, the consistent drawback with such promotions is that one person may be selected for an opportunity, which does not give other eligible candidates an equitable chance to be considered. DEI efforts may have provided more equitable opportunities for minority female business professionals to be considered for CFO positions. Where does that leave white female business professionals that are eligible candidates? Is it possible for white female business professionals to embrace the increase of appointments of minority female CFOs through internal promotions as reverse discrimination? This is an interesting theory based on the definition of reverse discrimination, which refers to the “historical” majority group. In the U.S., the Hispanic population from an ethnic perspective is considered the majority group among minorities, followed by African – Americans. White Americans are still considered the racial majority within the U.S., which may be why white female candidates for CFO positions may leave their current employers as they may feel that they are being reversely discriminated against.
Although it’s great that studies like what was conducted by IMA and CalCPA encourage organizations to work on equitable opportunities regarding internal promotions, internal candidates should be provided with the resources and training opportunities needed to be successful in their roles. Organizations should not move forward with internal promotions to fulfill quotas.
There is also still room for improvement for organizations to conduct external recruiting searches for senior-level executive positions when specific skill sets are not found among internal candidates. Tips to consider to ensure that external recruiting searches can result in organizations developing a diverse leadership pipeline are discussed in a blog post by Catalyst, 7 Things You Can Do to Recruit Women of Color (Blog Post) | Catalyst.
It was in the 1980s when women began to be strongly seen in accounting and finance roles which led to Controllership and CFO positions. It is possible that white female accounting and finance professionals could be considered for C-Suite positions solely on their skill sets due to white privilege, while their minority colleagues needed additional credentials to be barely considered. On average, there is probably one senior-level minority professional within accounting and finance departments among organizations. Therefore, it is uncommon for white professionals to interact with minority professionals in such roles, to the point that their credentials are questioned.
There is a long history of minority business professionals facing barriers to promotion even though they have obtained multiple credentials throughout their careers. Minority professionals have embraced the theory in general that they have to work 10 times harder than their white colleagues to be considered for promotions at the C-suite level. Working harder may equate to obtaining multiple credentials by some minority professionals. being challenged by their employers to obtain certain credentials for advancement opportunities.
According to the Cowen Partners study, approximately 63% of CFOs of color obtained an MBA or CPA, whereas among white first-time, internal CFO promotions in 2022, 40% held an MBA and 30% were CPAs. These statistics are promising since throughout the CPA designation’s 100 + year history, the needle has not moved with the number of African-Americans obtaining the license, 1%. This statistic is discussed extensively in a book written by Therese Hammond, “A White-Collar Profession: African-American Certified Public Accountants Since 1921”, and reports issued by the National Association of the State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) which can be found at www.nasba.org. It has been a common trend for many years that minority professionals felt the need to obtain more advanced degrees and credentials than their white counterparts just to get their foot in the door at organizations, no less being considered for advancement opportunities.
Public accounting firms have been a strong resource for a pipeline of minority accounting and finance professionals to become CFOs in private industry since they have to become CPAs to be considered for advancement opportunities within the firms. According to NASBA, in addition to passing the CPA exam, an exam candidate has to fulfill an experience requirement of 2 years in public accounting before obtaining a CPA license.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) issues trends surveys periodically that illustrates the supply and demand of accounting graduates and trends related to the number of CPAs in public accounting firms. Here are graphs that illustrate the headcount of CPAs in public accounting firms broken by ethnicity enclosed in the AICPA’s reports in 2021 and 2019:
The graphs illustrate that efforts to develop a diverse pipeline of CPAs are moving in the right direction based on the decrease of white CPAs from 84% in 2018 to 77% in 2020. There is also an increase of African – American CPAs from 2% in 2018 to 5% in 2020.
Before 2015, a typical mix of credentials for CFOs were bachelor’s degrees in accounting or finance and a CPA license since the educational requirement to obtain the license was 120 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree. Beginning in July 2015, NASBA changed the education requirement to 150 hrs. to obtain a CPA license. The change in the educational requirement strengthened the demand for business professionals to obtain MBA degrees in accounting or finance since obtaining a bachelor’s degree only results in earning 120 credits.
Another designation that CFOs obtain that is not mentioned in the Cowen Partners study is the Certified Management Accountant (CMA). It is a great compliment to the CPA license as it is globally recognized. It is also one of the few designations that allow college students to become exam candidates, which helps push efforts with developing a diverse pipeline of young accounting and finance professionals. More information about the CMA designation can be found at https://www.imanet.org/cma-certification.
“It’s lonely at the top”, is a statement that minority professionals refer to frequently as they progress throughout their careers, especially at the C-suite level. This is why mentorship, sponsorship, and allyship play an integral role in senior-level executives grooming potential talent and developing a diverse leadership pipeline.
The establishment of mentoring programs should be a common practice at organizations as part of creating diverse teams and inclusive environments. A common challenge among employees of people of color is that it is hard to find people that look like them that can guide them on how to be considered for mid to executive-level leadership positions. Mentoring programs should encourage cross-collaboration among employees of different teams to give employees a broader pool of leaders to choose from as mentors.
Minority accounting and finance professionals that are aspiring to become CFOs should aggressively look and request senior-level executives that are familiar with their work history to become their sponsors.
Mentorship and sponsorship are different forms of allyship. Employees at all levels of an organization can serve as allies for their colleagues.
A study from Bentley University, (Elevating Allyship Research Report Request | Bentley University),suggests how organizations can develop inclusive environments through allyship:
Finance leaders have to shift from supporting the DEI strategy to implementing it to develop a diverse pipeline of future CFOs. CFOs should also make sure that their managers work to assemble diverse teams. More diversity and improved inclusivity will likely enable accounting and finance professionals to approach problem-solving from a broader perspective, leading to such tangible outcomes as products with widening appeal.
Succession planning also has to be in place to develop a diverse pipeline of future CFOs. Succession planning is a struggle for most organizations but is essential to keep up the momentum by establishing diverse teams. The expansion of skill sets considered for senior-level accounting and finance professionals is a key to success for CFOs as they are expected to be business partners for their organizations.
Accountemps conducted a survey (Survey Reveals Top Six Strategies to Recruit Skilled Workers | AccountingWEB),that resulted in suggesting tips for employers to consider when identifying and retaining talent among accounting and finance teams.
Linda is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert who has pioneered the DEI function within national, and global professional organizations and as a consultant, publishing articles and researching DEI topics for Cowen Partners Executive Search. Linda’s leadership roles span over 15 years, culminating in the development of leadership landmarks for women, African – Americans, and Latinos. She is highly effective at articulating the vision and uniting coalitions to build a unifying mission for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Linda is adept at forming key advocacy groups and strategic partnerships to affect desired progress. She is well respected among peers, executive teams, and membership as a strong cross-functional leader. Linda has facilitated various DEI training sessions. Linda’s primary and extensive experience in accounting as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) allows her to conduct projects efficiently within companies’ budget constraints. Linda is also a Certified Association Executive (CAE), has a Certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from Cornell University, an M.B.A from Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), and a B.B.A in Accounting from Adelphi University. She currently serves on FDU’s DEI Advisory Council and is a former member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) National Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
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