Barbara Desoer
CEO, Citibank

Barbara Desoer had an epiphany last year about the way women hold themselves back from career opportunities and spurred the human resources department at Citibank to make some adjustments in light of this.

The idea came to her on a visit to the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, where she earned her MBA and is now an advisory board member. A professor told Desoer she'd noticed that whenever she asked a question in class, many male students immediately raised their hands, while few if any female students did.

"As an experiment, she said she instituted a 10-second rule during which no one could raise hands," Desoer says, "and then women raised their hands too. Her conclusion was that women wait until they're sure about something before they ask."

Desoer realized that same abundance of caution was at play in the workplace. "We'd been posting job openings and describing the requirements," she says, "but we'd find that men would apply if they met 40% of those requirements while women would only apply if they thought they met 80% or 90% — and in that case they are probably overqualified."

The solution, she says, has been to encourage women to apply if they meet 40% of a position's requirements, and also to ensure that any panel interviewing job candidates includes men and women.

Desoer joined the banking unit of Citigroup as chief operating officer in 2013 after more than 30 years with Bank of America. Since becoming CEO in April 2014, she has been overseeing a major consolidation of its retail footprint. The process entails quitting 11 of the 30 countries where Citi has had retail operations, and refocusing on the remaining 19 where it has the strongest competitive position. At the same time, Desoer says the bank will continue to serve commercial clients in 100 countries.

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