For years the heavy, oaken doors of banking's executive suites have shut out all but white males.

But the 1990s have seen those doors open to others with increasing frequency. Women, in particular, have been making big gains. African-Americans and Hispanics are starting to move into top jobs. And the welcome mat finally seems to be out for Jews.

"There have been major advances in the incorporation of many more women, and in the exposure of people from all types of creeds and colors," said Skott Burkland, a partner at the executive search firm Skott/Edwards Consultants in New York.

Some people have thrived in the more open environment.

In May, Rosemarie Greco, chief executive of CoreStates Financial Corp.'s lead bank, was named president of the holding company, becoming the highest-ranking woman in commercial banking. Roberta J. Arena is running Citicorp's huge credit card business in North America and Europe and is widely seen as a possible successor to chairman John S. Reed.

Richard D. Parsons, an African-American, led a stunning turnaround of Dime Savings Bank, the East Coast's largest thrift, in the early 1990s. In the process, he became a symbol of African-American achievement and went on to one of the biggest jobs in corporate America - president of Time Warner Inc.

Meanwhile, Cuban-born Roberto G. Mendoza has been serving as a vice chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co., leading key strategic initiatives in Latin America and elsewhere. A brilliant manager who sometimes works days without sleep, he consistently ranks high on the industry's list of top earners. His total compensation last year: $3.5 million.

To be sure, most observers say the industry can do still more to ensure that women and minorities can flourish in banking and reach top positions. Many people continue to feel held back, and even exploited, because of sex or ethnic background.

Alden J. McDonald Jr. said minorities are often herded into "'affairs' jobs, like community or corporate affairs, or CRA and fair-lending positions. Those are dead-end jobs."

Mr. McDonald, chief executive of minority-owned Liberty Bank and Trust Co. in New Orleans, said he is seeing more executives fleeing larger institutions and applying for jobs at Liberty and other small, minority-owned banks.

Banks, however, appear to be doing a bit better than other industries in promoting diversity in the management ranks. Minorities - including blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans - represented 12.4% of bank executives and managers in 1994, compared with 11% in all industries, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Many bankers, though pleased with the progress at their institutions, say they fully intend to sustain the momentum.

"Is it as good as we want it to be? No." said Valerie Crane Barkhurst, BankAmerica Corp.'s senior vice president in charge of corporate diversity. "We have to work harder."

Lydia Hernandez-Velez, CoreStates' executive vice president in charge of legal and compliance, said the key is for more women and minorities to become mentors for up-and-coming managers.

"I do walk into crowded rooms where there's only me and one African- American, and maybe five are women and the rest men," she said. "It certainly makes me feel like I'm a steward for anyone that comes here with my background or has experienced what I have."

Women are finding the greatest success at penetrating the glass ceiling.

Ricki Helfer, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for the past two years, is the first woman to lead a federal bank regulatory agency. And Jill Considine is president of the influential New York Clearing House Association.

Women increasingly are running sizable banks within holding companies. Karen Horn is perhaps the model - she's been chief executive of Banc One Cleveland since 1986.

Some women have taken charge of key business lines at major banks. Beverly Wells, for instance, runs Wachovia Corp.'s innovative credit card business. At BankAmerica, human resources chief Kathleen Burke has ascended to the level of vice chairman.

Various factors are pushing the industry to diversify its work force. The minority population is growing at a faster pace than the white mainstream, banks are under heavy regulatory pressure to reach out to minority communities, and many large banks have found they need a culturally diverse management team to realize their global aspirations.

For instance, of six executive vice presidents at Citicorp, one was born in Pakistan, one in India, and one in Argentina.

Once a rarity in the upper echelon of banking, Jews increasingly are among the top executives in the industry. In 1990, Richard Rosenberg became the first Jewish chief executive of a money-center bank when he assumed the reins at BankAmerica.

For all the progress, however, banks still haven't convinced all aspiring executives that the industry will give them a fair shake.

Consider Ann Brown-Harris. After 16 years at SunTrust Banks Inc., she felt as if her fast-paced career had hit a brick wall.

She was one of a handful of black female vice presidents, having excelled in jobs as varied as marketing and commercial lending. Still, she said, she didn't seem to be advancing as quickly as others - and it wasn't clear that race was the problem.

"Maybe I'm color-blind, but I think it had to do more with me being a woman. Let's face it, it's a male-dominated area," said Ms. Brown-Harris, now chief executive of Metro Savings Bank, a small thrift in Orlando.

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