Pam Flaherty started working at Citigroup Inc. in 1969, the same year Congress passed a law prohibiting employer discrimination against women. She was a young research assistant in the investment banking division.
As she recalls it today, "in some ways being a woman was an advantage. The industry was growing and because there weren't that many women, you were noticed."
These days, she is being noticed not just because she is a woman, but because she has made a career as one of Wall Street's most socially conscious bankers. The Marjorie Magner Lifetime Achievement Award she wins this year from US Banker, established in 2005, recognizes her commitment to support education, equal opportunity and diversity. But to begin her long track on the path to helping others, Flaherty first had to leave the 'intergalactic levels' of international finance to deal with real customers, and in 1976 became a branch manager in New York's financial district.
"I absolutely loved it," Flaherty says. "When you are working in the retail business, you are out in the neighborhoods, establishing relationships."
Her success as a branch manager quickly propelled her through the ranks, and by the early 1980s she was running Citi's retail business in the New York tri-state area, a position she held for 20 years. All the while, Flaherty kept an eye out for talented women: at one point, eight of the 10 managers who reported to her were women.
Flaherty also built a reputation as one of Wall Street's strongest advocates of social change.
"Pam has held many senior line and staff jobs, but what particularly distinguishes her career is her contributions to the community," says Richard Parsons, Citi's chairman. "Her signature achievements lie in how she has used her business experience and skills to make the world a little bit better place."
Impressed with her community building skills, Citi promoted Flaherty to head of global community relations in 1996. She focused most on environmental initiatives; her best-known project involves helping a group of banks set up guidelines for environmentally conscious project finance.
She also became more involved in poverty alleviation, and as a board member of Accion, one of the world's largest micro-lenders, became one of Citi's most vocal proponents of microlending. Those small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, she says, empower women in particular by helping them reduce their dependence on male wage earners.
Flaherty's long career of socially conscious banking has led her to the top of Citi's philanthropic efforts — as CEO of Citi Foundation and the director of corporate citizenship at the nearly $2 trillion-asset company.
Since taking the reins of Citi Foundation three years ago, she has focused on the economic empowerment of the poor, specifically in communities where Citi does business. In the U.S., this focus has led to an emphasis on education and a mission to help students become the first in their family to earn a college degree.
"We take these things for granted, but some kids don't know anybody who has been to college," Flaherty says. "Everything we know tells us that education is the single most powerful factor in breaking the cycle of poverty."
Flaherty is currently helping to arrange a program between Citi and the United Negro College Fund and KIPP Charter Schools that helps low-income middle school students save for college. Citi's consumer division will offer savings accounts, while Citi Foundation — which disburses $65 million in grants each year — will fund scholarships and training programs.
"You have to produce a certain amount of money to get through four years of college," Flaherty says. "If you're a low-income person, that's almost impossible if you don't start saving until you're a junior or senior in high school."
Flaherty believes the program exemplifies one of Citi Foundation's biggest strengths: its ability to pool philanthropic and business resources to create something beneficial to local communities.
After a long career in banking that has spanned a wide variety of roles, Flaherty seems quite content helping to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate.
"I really believe I am working on issues that are making a difference in the world," she says.