Will women ever get a shot to lead Goldman? Ask its next top man

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Goldman Sachs needs to do a better job elevating women to its top ranks, new heir apparent David Solomon said recently. He has his work cut out for him.

"You make progress, but the progress as you're looking at it day to day feels slow, and it feels slow because you're a big organization," Solomon told the Women in Corporate Leadership Initiative in January. He couldn't give a good reason when asked why women haven't climbed higher. "But you know over time that will change. It's our job to change it."

When Solomon was named sole president on Monday, he became the frontrunner to succeed Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein, rising atop a small and male group. Harvey Schwartz, who had been co-president, is leaving. Possible contenders had included Vice Chairman Pablo Salame, finance chief Marty Chavez and even former Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn, who's stepping down from his job as President Donald Trump's economic adviser.

Goldman Sachs isn't alone. No woman has ever run a major Wall Street bank. Less than a quarter of U.S. executives and senior managers at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman were women in 2016. Morgan Stanley last released data for 2015, when women made up just 17.9 percent of its leaders.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of 10,000 Women, the Goldman Sachs program sponsoring female entrepreneurs worldwide. If Solomon becomes CEO, part of his job will be making sure the race to replace him doesn't look like the last one.

"I've seen women who are very talented, who have big revenue roles, big leadership roles, and we just haven't seen them get across the finish line," said Ana Duarte-McCarthy, who ran diversity efforts at Citigroup until she left in 2016. "It's not a lack of talent."

Just two

For now, there are two women among Goldman's 11 executive officers: Karen Seymour, co-general counsel, and compliance chief Sarah Smith. On the broader management committee, Isabelle Ealet is struggling to stabilize a commodities business that just posted its worst year since Goldman went public. Gwen Libstag, also in that leadership group, oversees business conflicts. Dina Powell, whose background is in government and philanthropy, will join the 31-member committee when she returns from Trump's White House this year.

"While progress has been made to increase the number of women at Goldman Sachs, there is more work to be done," spokeswoman Leslie Shribman said. "We have several initiatives in place to increase the number of diverse candidates coming into the firm and to retain and promote diverse talent once they are here, and we will continue to do more."

Solomon, 56, presented ideas on diversity to the board in June. He wants the group of junior employees entering the bank to be closer to half female, and brought in Sarah-Marie Martin as a partner from Credit Suisse Group AG.

"Many of the Wall Street firms are still boys' clubs where men hold onto power and promotions," said Roy Cohen, a Wall Street career coach who counted Goldman Sachs as his biggest client for years. "Some firms recognize that there's an issue but are also reluctant to engage."

'Full potential'

Charles Peabody, an analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading, doesn't see Goldman Sachs changing much at the top anytime soon. "They will try and advance women in general, but not at the very senior, senior levels," he said.

It's a challenge Goldman's leaders have been talking about for years, inside the firm and beyond.

"In my 25 years at Goldman Sachs, I've learned one thing about markets: You don't create any value if you are unwilling to make an investment," Blankfein told a United Nations audience at an International Women's Day event in 2008. "The fact is that no country will ever achieve its full potential if half of its talent pool is stymied or under-represented."

Bloomberg News
Diversity and equality Succession planning Goldman Sachs Women in Banking