Despite years of diversity initiatives, senior management teams across the banking industry remain overwhelmingly male. Now a growing number of women are coming around to the idea that real change starts in the boardroom.
It's an idea we explored with the executives in our Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance rankings and you'll find some of their perspectives on board service here.
The statistics are dismal: Last year, just 16% of board seats at S&P 1500 companies were held by women, less than the percentage held by directors named John, Robert, James and William, according to an E&Y study mentioned in this story.
But plenty of women are working to change that, including quite a few in our rankings.
Chairman and CEO, KeyCorp
In the U.S., C-suite and board make-up has changed dramatically in the course of a generation, but we still have miles to go. So, I encourage us all to continue championing the selection of diverse directors and building diversity and inclusion into our business strategies and goals.
Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer, Comerica
"A dear friend, former graduate school classmate and wise CEO in a male-dominated industry once told me that having women on the board elevates not only the behavior but also the ability to effectively operate in the boardroom. Having reflected on his profound statement, grounded in his personal observation, I have to agree with him. The introduction of women in the boardroom has changed dynamics and outcomes for the better. We now simply need to grow in number and therefore influence!"
ON THE CHANGING MINDSET
President and CEO, Charles Schwab Investment Management
In a recent board meeting, one of my board members raised the issue of the lack of diversity at one of our vendors. I was impressed that the discussion went beyond diversity in the boardroom and at my organization, but to those who serve us in other capacities. The more diverse a board, the more they want to see the organizations supporting the company also be diverse.
Board members are increasingly raising diversity not because they have to, but because they believe it makes a difference.
Anne Clarke Wolff
Head of Global Corporate Banking and Global Leasing, Bank of America
Increasing female representation on public boards is critical in my estimation. The presence of women can be a game changer on so many different levels for public corporate boards. To lack this segment of expertise is a meaningful gap.
ON PUSHING FOR DIVERSITY
EVP, Retail Banking, Zions Bancorp.
I do serve on a board that seems slower in responding to the trends I'm seeing among most leadership teams today. As a result, I've decided to bring it up at every meeting. I've decided the mission of what I have to share — about the importance of adding more women and people of multicultural backgrounds to the board — is more important than the risk of offending any of the traditional, homogenous board members. I'm not there to make friends; I'm there to make an impact.
So I've been pleased to have seen a shift in consciousness. Now, when the topic comes up, a search committee member will note the number of candidates who are women and minorities, and will look to me for a nod approval.
President and CEO, Centric Bank
I have five business goals for 2015 and chief among them is specifically targeting influential, experienced business women to serve on our board of directors. In the last year we have seen a significant increase in businesswomen as customers, and now are tapping into their stories to encourage fellow business builders.
Co-General Manager, Head of Midwest General Industries, U.S. Corporate Banking Division, MUFG Union Bank
Among the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., more than 30% of total revenue comes from outside the domestic market, and these foreign operations hold the most potential for growth. In order to achieve full potential, it is important to assemble a board with people whose backgrounds are relevant to the people and businesses within the target areas of growth.
ON BOARD DYNAMICS
President and CEO, The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank
I am always struggling with the right balance between being appropriately deferential and also expressing views in a manner in which they will be taken seriously. After two long days of meetings, one night, two of the younger female staff took me aside. They told me that they were thrilled to have a female role model that didn't overcompensate by being pushy and yet was being taken seriously. I thought for a long time about that exchange.
On the one hand, I know from reading (far too much) research that women and men are perceived very differently. Studies do show that navigating that balance is far more difficult for women, regardless of competence. I was delighted that (with the support of the other board members) it seemed to be working, but I was also momentarily overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility for all of the women who were looking to me as a role model.
I have come to expect that a journey filled with taking on risks means one also filled with mistakes and lessons, but I worried about the implications of those mistakes for younger women who were looking to learn from my career. In my own mind, I resolved it by taking the approach that I could model an effective and non-self-judging way of dealing with mistakes, and also, that my mistakes could provide lessons to other women. Although I still feel the responsibility of trying to provide an effective model of female success in banking, it is less of a burden and more of a personal goal.
Managing Director, Global Head of Research, Economics & Strategy, Wells Fargo Securities
I'm proud to work for a company with an exceptionally diverse and qualified board. …
Seven of Wells Fargo's 16 board members (44%) are female, more than double the average for companies in the S&P 500 and well above even the most aggressive targets of advocacy groups like Catalyst, the 30% Club, or 2020 Women on Boards.
It is impossible to prove a causal relationship between diversity and stock performance, but it is worth noting that over the past 5 years, Wells Fargo's stock has outperformed the banking sector by more than 34%.