Women in Banking

Pipeline pressure and other highlights from the 2018 Most Powerful Women gala

Register now

Our celebration of the 2018 Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance had all of its usual spirit and sass. But it was also clear that the world has changed since the last time this gathering took place.

“I’m often asked, do we really think that in this day and age it’s important to honor powerful women in banking?” said Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant, who ranked No. 1 on the banking list for the second time in a row. “And I don’t think there’s anything more we need to look at than the events of the last 12 months, and the way the dialogue has changed, to know that it could not be more appropriate.”

It was on the same day as the 2017 Most Powerful Women gala that the New York Times first reported how Harvey Weinstein allegedly used his position and power in Hollywood to sexually assault women with impunity for decades.

The cultural reckoning set off by that story is still reverberating, with important men in many industries being held accountable for their inappropriate, and sometimes criminal, behavior (banking included).

Against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, calls for increasing diversity in banking’s senior ranks — a recurring theme at our annual event — carried more urgency.

Barbara Byrne of Barclays, who accepted a Lifetime Achievement award, implored the women to push harder for change.

“In this moment of heightened awareness in our culture, I believe it’s essential to seize the opportunity to transform anger and frustration into momentum to change,” Byrne said, as shown in this video clip of her speech. “We need to be a power of we.”

Earlier in the day, the Most Powerful Women honorees attended a special conference exclusively for them, and Byrne cited a statistic shared at that event — research done by McKinsey determined that, at the current pace, it will take 100 years before women hold just as many C-suite positions as men.

“So we can’t go at the current pace,” Byrne said. “We’ve got to change it.”

To make that happen, management needs to rethink how evaluations are done and how decisions are made about who is groomed and promoted, she said, adding that women should press board members to take up the issue.

Rosemary Berkery of UBS, who also accepted a Lifetime Achievement award, said many more women are in leadership than when she started her banking career in 1978. She recalled that, back then, it had only been four years since single women could apply for a credit card – though, she joked, “we made up for lost time.”

Berkery also shared a personal story about getting gravely ill not so long ago and having to undergo a heart transplant. She talked about all of the love and support she received from family and friends, noting that Bob McCann — a colleague of hers at Merrill Lynch and later at UBS — never let a few days go by without sending words of encouragement. (McCann, chairman of UBS Americas, gave the introduction for Berkery on stage.)

“That experience changed me enormously,” Berkery said, as shown in this video clip. Now she wakes up every day grateful to be alive and more inspired than ever to share the compassion she received with others.

She quoted poet Maya Angelou, saying, “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.”

Similarly, Wells Fargo’s Mary Mack, who ranked No. 1 on our Women to Watch list, got personal in her speech.

Mack first joked about how she must be at the top of the watch list for the second time in a row because Wells is under a microscope. Then she touched on how Wells has changed in the wake of the phony-accounts scandal, saying it has been a rough couple of years and the work is not done. (Read more about that part of her speech here, and watch a video clip here.)

But, Mack said, she has handled worse.

“I’ll tell you, the biggest challenge by far for me was a personal one,” she said, citing the sudden death of her daughter at the age of 23 several years ago. Like Berkery, she talked about the perspective that experience gave her and credited her company for being supportive.

She concluded by offering an upbeat outlook on Wells — “Keep watching because I think you’ll be delighted with what you see from us” — and then reminded women to support each other.

“Just remember, real women don’t just watch,” Mack said. “We lean in. We help each other. We support other women, and we get it done.

The enthusiastic audience of roughly 800 featured plenty of male allies.

Besides McCann, the UBS tables hosted Tom Naratil, the company’s president for the Americas and co-head of its global wealth management business.

Two Canadian banks had their U.S. chief executives in the crowd — Greg Braca of TD and Dave Casper of BMO Financial Group. Both TD and BMO received team awards this year.

Other CEOs at the event included HSBC’s Pat Burke, Fifth Third’s Greg Carmichael and New York Life’s Ted Mathas.

All rise ...

In keeping with the spirit of supporting other women, many of the honorees brought female mentees to the gala.

During her speech, Bonnie McGeer, American Banker’s executive editor, asked the mentees to stand up, saying, “Let everyone get a good look at what the C-suites of the future are going to look like.”

She called on the honorees to step up their efforts to give women in the pipeline – particularly minorities – more visibility at their companies.

She cited KeyCorp’s Amy Brady as an example. Brady had been approached by Jasmine Hosein during a break at an internal conference that Key had. Hosein pitched an idea for a networking program and asked Amy to sponsor it. The next day Brady had her stand up at the conference and share the idea with everyone.

“What Amy did is the opposite of that dynamic women often talk about,” where they say something at a meeting and nobody acknowledges it, then a guy says the same thing and others chime in with their support, McGeer said.

McGeer also recounted a conversation she had with MUFG’s Enid Jean-Claude, a Yale graduate who said she had trouble envisioning herself in a position of power.

“I didn’t see this for myself because I didn’t see others,” Jean-Claude said.

And she wasn’t talking about just women. She was talking about people of color.

“That conversation with Enid reinforced for me that it is important not just to showcase the women who made it, but to show that there are more behind them,” McGeer said.

Notice them.”

That will be critical in the years ahead, as we charge the next generation of female leaders with changing those stubborn C-suite statistics in a much more substantial way, she said.

Most Powerful Women of the Future

To do its part in helping showcase women in the pipeline, American Banker invited all of the honorees featured on the cover of the October issue of the magazine to bring mentees to the photo shoot. In addition, profiles of nine mentees, who are all involved in disruption in some way, ran as part of the Most Powerful Women coverage.

If you haven’t seen them yet, check out the women our honorees say are destined to be part of these rankings in the future:

Julia Britton — Though Britton has a big job now, supporting the chief information officer for one of HSBC's most important regions, she hopes to someday be a regional chief operating officer, or perhaps even a CEO. Her mentor is Diane Reyes.

Meera Clark — It should come as no surprise that Clark would gravitate to ventures like Morgan Stanley's Multicultural Innovation Lab, which pairs venture capital with founders from diverse backgrounds. She didn’t have to look far for a role model and mentor, with MUFG’s Ranjana Clark as her mother.

Jasmine Hosein — Her primary job is advising senior executives on compliance, technology and data security matters, but Hosein is also making a mark as a champion for up-and-coming female leaders. Her mentor is Amy Brady.

Enid Jean-Claude — Getting more minority women into positions of power requires having conversations not only about gender, but also about race, says this associate general counsel at MUFG. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she has an interesting background that includes spending part of her childhood in Chad. Her mentor is Ranjana Clark.

Samantha Spilkin — Her education in math and programming, uncommon in investment banking, has allowed her to bring a disruptive approach to problem-solving at Goldman Sachs, where she is a vice president. Her mentor, Stephanie Cohen, said she appreciates Spilkin's ability to think differently and drafted her to teach others on the team how to code.

Anne WalkerBank of America’s New York market president loves finding ways to simplify cumbersome processes. Her mentor is Anne Finucane.

Diana Moy — In five years, Moy has built from scratch a thriving business unit that is focused solely on developing easy-to-use, customer-facing technology for U.S. Bancorp's wealth management clients. Her mentor is Gunjan Kedia.

Christina Hamlin — Hamlin caught the attention of senior leaders at Citizens Bank when she oversaw the successful launch of a checking product. Now she sits at the center of every major marketing initiative. Her mentor is Beth Johnson.

Jessica Seidlitz — As a managing director overseeing diversity initiatives for Charles Schwab Investment Management, she is on a mission to recruit and retain more female asset managers, along with her mentor, Marie Chandoha.

See video interviews with the mentees and all the most recent Most Powerful Women coverage here.

Beyond banking

Quotas it is: California is requiring publicly traded companies headquartered in the state to add more women to their boards. Companies with six or more directors must have at least three women by the end of 2021 – a threshold that many, including Facebook and Tesla, don’t meet. Those with five directors must have at least two women, and smaller boards must have at least one. In signing the new law – the first of its kind in America – Gov. Jerry Brown said it is needed, even if it is likely to face legal challenges. “Recent events in Washington, D.C. — and beyond — make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message,” Brown said, in an apparent reference to the fight over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. About 165 California-based publicly traded companies have no female directors at all.

Welcome: Today Jill Soltau officially takes over at J.C. Penney, bringing the number of women leading Fortune 500 companies back up to 25. The former CEO of Jo-Ann Stores succeeds Marvin Ellison, who left in May to become CEO of Lowe’s. The Dallas Morning News marked Soltau’s first day by pointing out where she was almost exactly 20 months ago – at the White House for a meeting President Trump hosted with business leaders. Soltau and Ellison sat on either side of Trump at that meeting, as shown in this photo. J.C. Penney’s stock had lost half of its value this year, but optimism about Soltau, the first female CEO in the company’s 116-year history, gave the shares a 9% lift immediately following the initial announcement about her appointment.

Thanks for reading! If you aren’t getting a copy of the monthly American Banker Magazine, which publishes the annual Most Powerful Women rankings, please send an email to sign up for a digital or print subscription.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.