The Prestige Factor: Inspiring Women Executives

Kathy Waller, the former CFO of Coca-Cola, talks about the role of prestige, wealth and influence in getting women to the C-suite.


The Prestige Factor: Inspiring Women Executives

The promise of prestige, wealth and influence is a powerful―yet rarely discussed―factor in motivating women to pursue senior leadership positions. In this excerpt from her conversation with Bain's Jennifer Hayes, Kathy Waller, the first female and first African American CFO of a Fortune 100 company, explains how her executive role at Coca-Cola allowed her to effect positive change and give back to the causes she holds dear. 

Watch the full conversation between Jennifer and Kathy (17 min.) >

Read the transcript below:

JENNIFER HAYES: I'm Jen Hayes, a partner at Bain & Company and chair of our Global Women's Leadership Council. Here with me today is Kathy Waller, who is just recently retired after over three decades with Coca-Cola, where most recently you served as the chief financial officer and notably the first female and the first African American to serve as a CFO of a Fortune 100 company. Welcome.

KATHY WALLER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

HAYES: So as someone who's reached the C-suite and has been incredibly successful, we'd love to chat more about the role of prestige and wealth and influence in inspiring women, especially in the US, to want to attain these senior leader roles.

And I'm just curious, does that resonate, and did you feel that in your own career with other women that you've worked with in senior roles?

WALLER: So, yes, it does resonate.

Now, I know it doesn't sound great. People don't go out and say, "Hey, I'm going to get this job for all the prestige and wealth and influence that I can get." That's not why they go after the jobs. But these jobs are hard jobs. I mean, they are challenging roles. You give up some other things to take these roles.

You know, you're trying to balance all the things in your life, and it's very, very challenging. And so if it was not a promise of more money -- you know, that's your wealth -- then you wouldn't take it. Nobody would take it. The men wouldn't take it. Nobody would take the role. So it makes sense that these jobs come with more opportunities for financial gain, right?

And the jobs are prestigious, because they're senior roles, and many of them are officers of the company, so that makes it a prestigious role. And then the influence is unquestionable because now you are a senior leader in your company and you therefore have more influence internally as well as externally.

And I will give you an example of my alma mater. When I became an officer of the company, I was on the board of my alma mater. Now, on school boards and things like that, you give to the university. And, frankly, the job having more money, financial gain, allowed me to then give more to the university, which then improved my level of influence, not only on that board, but also within the university community. And that influence allowed me to help them with their diversity initiatives, and to explain why certain things were important, and just try to push certain things forward, which I would not have had several roles previous to that.

So you cannot deny that the influence is there. Certainly one would say the role of a CFO is a prestigious role, particularly of the Coca-Cola Company. People seek you out. They seek your opinion.

So it does have prestige, and it does have certainly more wealth than other jobs, and it does have influence. And so I don't think people necessarily think about it that way because it sounds so negative, but those things are absolutely there, and there's nothing wrong with them.

HAYES: There is always a sense that feels more materialistic or not the way I want to be portrayed. But in a lot of the interviews that we had with women in corporate America, as you point out, we wouldn't do these jobs unless we attain some more wealth.

WALLER: And, frankly, the influence is as important as anything.

HAYES: Exactly.

WALLER: In that, you know, of those three, I think it's the influence that matters the most.

HAYES: That's what popped more in the conversations. It was about either there's an impact on just me being able to provide for the future of my family, but even beyond that the influence on people and influence on the causes that I care about, and being able to forward them.

Read the Bain Report

Gender Parity: Inspiring Women to Reach for the C-Suite

Women benefit from more open conversations about prestige, wealth and influence.


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