A Word from Your Sponsor?

Our annual look at women's progress to the top of the financial heap reveals why &doublequot;mentors&doublequot; may not be useful enough.
Scott LeibsJuly 15, 2011

Since 1995, we have been tracking women’s progress toward the top CFO posts in the country. In many respects that progress has been the reverse of the quip about how a man goes broke (slowly, then all at once). Women made remarkable progress between 1995 and 2005, as the ranks of female CFOs at Fortune 500 companies tripled, but for the past several years their advance has slowed markedly.

As staff writer Marielle Segarra explains in “Taking the Next Step,” there may be one simple move that companies can take: go beyond conventional mentorship programs and pair a candidate with a sponsor. A sponsor differs from a mentor in subtle but important ways, serving as a true advocate and champion. In the view of some experts, this distinction can help women — who outnumber men in college accounting programs but lose ground at each step of the career ladder — compete more equitably by giving them, in essence, the kind of invaluable connection that men tend to make more readily in a male-dominated field.

Even the dominant, of course, aren’t indomitable. Just ask IBM. In the 1990s it went from a highly admired, and hugely profitable, global giant to a company that had to sweat the payroll each month. From that adversity came a raft of structural changes and new business processes that have propelled it back to such good health that the recession barely made a dent. As it celebrates its centennial this year, the hard lessons IBM learned offer a useful primer for companies of all sizes that want to keep pace with the times (see “Think [Again]“).

China is doing just that as it rethinks its approach to its currency. The country will now allow companies to trade in the renminbi, albeit with some limits. Vincent Ryan, senior editor for capital markets, explains what that may mean for your company in “China’s Currency Conversion.”

Unfortunately, CFOs appear to be undergoing a different sort of conversion — from optimists to pessimists. As our latest Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey finds, the recent run-up in CFO feel-goodism has run aground, undone by a host of uncertainties. Deputy editor Kate O’Sullivan parses the latest data in “Treading Water.

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