It's that time of year again. As I prepare to head to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting, I always ask myself the question: how do I make it count?
I lead a technology organization with nearly 100,000 teammates in 35 countries. Participating in energizing events like Davos gives me the ability to push pause and think about the intersection of banking and broader global business issues.
World events like Davos are important for bankers. Done right, banking is a noble profession and we must be stewards of communities we serve. Our industry's health is inextricably linked with that of the world around us. So being engaged with the international community is vital.
Our responsibility as world stewards is one reason behind my passion for diversity, including diversity of thought and perspectives. Diversity is not just a cultural imperative; it is a business and economic development imperative as well. Throughout my more than 30-year career, I have found that diversity connects us more deeply to our customers. At the end of the day, diversity always wins.
Yet globally, most industries lag in key areas of diversity, particularly in representation of women in leadership. Certainly this is true in the industries I'm familiar with, technology and financial services.
For example, the percentage of undergraduate computer science degrees that are given to women has actually fallen in the last 30 years – arguably the period with the most tech innovation in history – from 37% to 18%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2013, women held just 26% of professional computing occupations in the U.S., even though they hold 52% of all professional occupations, according to a population survey from the Department of Labor. Women are better represented in financial services – making up more than half of the industry's workforce – but less than 25% of senior managers in financial firms are women, says Catalyst, a nonprofit organization. In Fortune 500 companies, just 14.3% of executive officer positions are held by women. And, talk about a wake-up call, but 71% of female millennials in financial services don't believe opportunities equal between women and men, according to research from PwC. Indeed, just over 60% say their employers aren't doing enough to encourage diversity.
Bank of America compares favorably, which is due in large part to the commitment of Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan. Today, 30% of B of A's executives are women. We've seen the number of women who report to our CEO, or to his direct reports, increase by 55% in the past five years. More than 30,000 employees throughout our company participate in bank programs and networks designed to enable and empower women.
But we all must do more and I must do more. As a technology and operations leader in financial services who happens to be a woman, I feel this acutely.
Earlier this year, I commissioned a study to help demonstrate where my organization faces roadblocks in diversity, and how to overcome them. We learned about the root causes of obstacles to the advancement of women, particularly with pulling qualified female candidates to the higher ranks. We learned about the unintended consequences of re-organizations, inconsistent commitment by managers and fears of failure by potential candidates. We are investing to ensure we have a data-rich environment when it comes to developing and advancing women in our organization.
An article posted on the World Economic Forum website asked, "Where are the missing women in #tech?" To me, a better question is, "Are there great women in tech?" The answer? Absolutely – as there are in banking. Just not enough. The need to develop more women professionally is indisputable.
Each of us has a responsibility to leave a legacy richer than the one we inherited. We should look hard at how we're connected with the world around us, and not just support diversity but become known as champions, by our work and our deeds.
Cathy Bessant is the chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America. Follow her on Twitter @CathyBessant.