It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times over the past five years: Why rank women executives? The answer is simple: If you look at the low percentage of women in banking's executive ranks, why not examine the influence of top female achievers industry-wide?

Analyzing USB's circulation base in spring 2003, I felt compelled to delve deeper into why the percentages of women in executive management were so low. At the time, 75 percent of banking's workforce was female, yet women comprised less than 25 percent of the C-suite, a number bolstered by community bank diversity efforts. Further, women held only 16 percent of executive management positions at the top 100 U.S. commercial banks, according to Financial Women International. The findings prompted me to pen a commentary, "If Waiting Were a Sport, Women Would Win," which sparked widespread feedback. That input convinced me there was a story to tell. The ranking of The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking debuted in fall 2003.

Since then, women have made strides in banking, though progress on a percentage basis is not overwhelming. Recent data from FWI found that women hold 17.9 percent of executive positions at the 100 largest nationally chartered commercial banks, while 14.7 percent of executive positions at state-chartered banks are held by women.

Progress continues, and the ranking has shone a bright light on some of the industry's most important women. At this summer's 5th anniversary 25 MPWIB photo shoot, USB creative director Andrew Lathrop and I were joined by top-performing women including, from left, AIG's Joyce Phillips, formerly of Citi; Sterling Savings' Heidi Stanley; Summit Bank's Shirley Nelson; Citi's Maura Markus; Wells Fargo's Carrie Tolstedt; Willow Financial's Donna Coughey; Synovus' Elizabeth James; Raymond James Bank alum Theresa Schefstad; and Stock Yards Bank & Trust's Kathy Thompson. All have been honored over the years in The 25 MPWIB ranking.

It's their influence-and that of the many others honored over five years-that continues to reshape banking's leadership, a goal worthy of any organization and its individuals. (c) 2007 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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