Last year, the No. 1 Most Powerful Woman in Banking, JP Morgan Chase's Heidi Miller (also No. 1 this year), warned attendees at the celebration dinner, "No matter what financial crisis, men, you have historically landed on your feet. But given what we're up against today as women we'd be foolhardy if we didn't think about how we should land on our feet."
(To jump to the full listing of The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, click here.)
The past year has forced all bank executives — men and women — to prove their mettle, and not everyone has landed on their feet. An unprecedented number of senior executives have taken a hit for their bank's, and the industry's, failings, including a number of high-profile women. Globally, 19 percent of senior women executives surveyed by Catalyst said they'd lost their jobs in the past two years, compared with just six percent of men.
In all of this, BNY Mellon CEO Bob Kelly makes no bones about his commitment to increasing gender equity in his bank's senior ranks. "Half the population is women, but the reality is that half of our senior management is not yet women," says Kelly, noting research that indicates companies "that have done a better job at getting women into the executive ranks and developing women more effectively" generate higher revenue growth and deliver "better client service and, ultimately, greater shareholder value over time."
Kelly's grasp of two undeniable truths — that having more women executives leads to stronger financial performance, and that the financial industry has a long way to go when it comes to gender equity — is the foundation of US Banker's 7th annual ranking of the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance.
And though it was rough overall, the year did produce some advances for senior women executives with proven abilities to perform. Former Citigroup executive Sallie Krawcheck was named head of Bank of America's Global Wealth and Investment Management unit in August; when the news broke BofA's shares shot up nearly 7 percent. BofA also promoted Cathy Bessant, formerly the head of Global Product Solutions, to head of Global Corporate Banking. Late last year, the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension fund, promoted its former Chief Investment Officer, Anne Stausboll, to CEO. She is the first female CEO in CalPERS' 77-year-history. Finally, just as this issue was going to press, UCBH Holdings Inc. promoted Doreen Woo Ho, its head of commercial and retail banking and a former Wells Fargo executive, to acting president and CEO.
But the stress on the industry has taken its toll on some senior female executives who have, in essence, opted out. Of note are Lisa Binder, president and CEO of Associated Bank and a Top 25 honoree in years past, who resigned her post in May. Erin Callan, Lehman Brothers' CFO who briefly took a position at Credit Suisse, is also reportedly on hiatus.
This phenomenon isn't new. Many of the industry's most talented women make a lifestyle choice not to reach for the next rung if it means even longer hours, more travel, and less time with their families, says Diane Offereins, executive vice president of payment services at Discover Financial Services. "I am actually concerned that more women are stepping out and saying, 'I don't want to do this,'" she says.
In their recent book "Womenomics," television journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman note that up to one-third of professional women take a breather from their careers at some point, and that MBAs are more likely than doctors or lawyers to choose to stay home with their children. The problem with this is crystallized in something Jack Welch said recently at a Society of Human Resources Management conference: that women who choose to get off the executive track are more likely to get passed over for top jobs when they are ready to return. "There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences," Welch says.