Most Powerful Women in Banking: No. 20, BBVA's Rosilyn Houston

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Chief Talent and Culture Executive, BBVA

“Obviously, it was a very bold move. But I felt like if I didn't do it, no one would.”

That’s Rosilyn Houston, chief talent and culture officer at BBVA, explaining why she made it her job to challenge a longstanding policy that barred executives at her bank from serving on corporate boards.

Houston, who for many years has advocated for women and minorities in the banking business, said she saw the policy as particularly harmful to them. Women and minorities already have enough trouble finding their way into senior management roles in the business world, she said. Since those are the ranks from which most corporate board seats are filled, denying them the opportunity to serve as a director was further perpetuating an opportunity gap.

In pushing to change the policy with the bank’s parent company, the Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, she presented it as a growth and development opportunity for key employees. Once she had re-cast the issue in those terms, she said, it quickly changed senior management’s way of thinking.

“It wasn't a hard sell,” she said. “It was just someone asking a question — me — and challenging the status quo, and also presenting the story of what this could be doing to hurt chances of people in our workplace to have the right to play critical roles.”

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This was also the year in which Houston welcomed a second woman onto BBVA Compass’ 13-member management committee. When the bank began looking for a new chief compliance officer, she pushed to broaden the search criteria in order to get more female candidates, which led to the hiring, in June 2018, of Celie Niehaus. Then Houston went further and made the business case that the CCO role needed to be part of the most senior circle of management.

She said she argued two main points when she brought the idea to Onur Genç, who was the chief executive of BBVA Compass at the time and now has the same title at its parent company: “It would be good for us as an organization, as we diversify talent, experience, background, thinking and the like. It would help us be a better management team. And, it's really good optics for our team members in the workforce to know that we were walking the talk here. And he agreed.”

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