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There are more women CFOs than ever. But there could still be many more. (Credit: Christina Morillo, Pexels)

In a positive trend, there has been a decided uptick in women CFOs.

That’s according to research performed by Cowen Partners Executive Search, a Vancouver, Washington, hiring firm. Its president, Shawn Cole, told Fortune that a third of the more than 250 chief financial officer hires and promotions that have taken place as of July have been women. And in 2021, 15% of Fortune 500 companies had women CFOs, other studies revealed, setting a new record for representation.

Why the increase? “[F]or years, companies have invested in hiring women at levels that allow for leadership development,” Cole said in an interview with Fortune. “Now, there is a bench of qualified candidates. We now see more female VPs we and others can pull from.”

And these aren’t just unknown firms making such moves – major companies like Walmart and Pfizer brought on women for the key financial role.

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Cowen Partners observed especially heartening trends this year for women of color, who comprised 19% of women CFO hires as of this summer – welcome news in contrast to several previous years. “The last five years have seen a strong demand for women … though, the roles have mostly gone to white women,” Cole explained. “After the reckoning brought on by George Floyd’s killing two years ago, companies have been seeking specifically people of color.”

He added, “[C]ompanies should reflect the communities they serve, and many do not. An all-white executive team and board sends a bad message to a historically diverse community.”

That said, there are still ample opportunities for continued progress. In 2022, for example, the majority of CFO hires were still white men. And though 2021 did break records for women’s representation in CFO roles, 85% of CFOs at Fortune 500 companies were men, and women remained a small minority.

Experts say it’s largely because such opportunities are far easier for men to access. Tracey T. Travis, CFO of The Estée Lauder Companies, told Fortune that the financial career pipeline could be majorly improved to give marginalized people better chances at advancement. “It’s a great career for women. … [W]e need more women and certainly more women of color.”

Added Christiana Spade, AMC Networks’ soon-to-be CEO, to Fortune, “Seek[ing] mentors in your industry that are proven leaders … can help you to further your skill set on all fronts.” 

But companies also need to do better – and according to Cole, some are, at long last, committed to trying.

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