CoreStates Financial Corp.'s Rosemarie B. Greco knows all too well of the "glass ceiling" that has kept women bankers a rung or two below the top management positions.
But unlike many of her female colleagues, Ms. Greco now is standing above the metaphorical barrier.
In May, CoreStates chief executive Terry Larsen named Ms. Greco, 50, chief executive of CoreStates' lead bank, to the additional post of president of the $44 billion-asset holding company.
Samuel McCullough, the former Meridian Bancorp chairman, stepped down after briefly assuming the No. 2 post at CoreStates when the two companies merged in April.
As the second-highest-ranking officer of the 20th-largest U.S. banking company, Ms. Greco, who started out in banking as a secretary 28 years ago, is one of the few prominent women in commercial banking today.
She is troubled by that fact, and challenges the industry to promote more women to the top ranks because it makes good business sense.
"At the table where critical decisions are being made," she said, "there needs to be a representative group of people that matches up with the profile of our major constituents - our shareholders, our employees, our customers."
Luckily for Ms. Greco, she works for a company that bought into this wisdom a few years back. As a result, CoreStates has had as many as three women serving on its board in the past year and a sizable contingent of women at the senior and executive vice president levels.
Mr. Larsen, who hired Ms. Greco away from First Fidelity in 1991 to oversee CoreStates' retail operations, said he picked her from a group of top lieutenants because of her interpersonal skills.
"People skills are the most important aspect of running a bank, rather than skills as a banker or a technician," he said. "Rosemarie has this ability to build teams and lead cooperative efforts."
But Ms. Greco conceded that her promotion was an anomaly, given the problems that women bankers are facing in the age of consolidation.
Indeed, one has to search hard to find women in banking's top ranks. A few notable examples are Terri Dial, a vice chairman at Wells Fargo & Co.; Marion Sandler, who shares chief executive duties with her husband, Herbert, at Golden West Financial Corp.; and Roberta Arena, the head of Citicorp's credit card unit.
Said Ms. Greco, "When a merger occurs and there are only five positions at the top of a new bank, not only do five white men lose their jobs but the next level of leadership gets pushed down to another level."
As a result, Ms. Greco said, she doesn't expect to see a woman banker as chief executive of a top-20 bank for at least five to 10 years.
Asked to guess who that might be, she offered up the name of Ricki Helfer, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
But Ms. Greco doesn't rule herself out.