Citi has more women on its board than any other big global bank

Citigroup is beating the French at their own game following the elevation of Jane Fraser to chief executive.

Women now account for half of Citigroup’s 16-person board, the most of the 20 largest global banks, after Michael Corbat stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Fraser. Until this month, French lenders have been the most progressive about promoting gender diversity, buoyed by government rules that require large companies to have at least 40% female representation on their supervisory boards.

The promotion of Fraser, the first woman to helm a Wall Street bank, marks a “flipping point” as it will prompt other financial institutions to follow suit, said Shelley Zalis, founder of the Female Quotient, a Los Angeles-based firm that focuses on advancing workplace equality.

Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, shown here during an interview in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Dec. 3, 2018, when she was CEO of the company’s Latin American operations.

Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg

A review of the world’s biggest banks by assets shows some signs that changes are afoot. In addition to Citigroup, HSBC Holdings appointed a sixth women director last month and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China added a third woman to its board in January.

Still, that’s not the full picture. Women occupy 25% or fewer of the board seats at Wells Fargo and Barclays, while corporate boards in China and Japan remain male-dominated, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Banks are under increasing pressure to boost gender diversity as evidence shows it adds to better long-term corporate performance and economic growth. Empowering women to participate fully in the modern economy could add about $20 trillion to world’s gross domestic product, according to estimates from Bloomberg Economics.

Financial services has been among the slowest industries to make notable progress when it comes to women in corporate leadership, according to Marypat Smucker, who runs the research firm Parallelle Finance.

And, that starts at the bottom. There is about a 24% gap between the rate of initial promotions for women and men in North America’s finance industry despite women asking for promotions at comparable rates, according to a report from consultants at McKinsey & Co. That’s partly because men are more likely to have senior leaders who serve as mentors, providing advice to them and identifying advancement opportunities, the report said.

“Jane Fraser is a bright spot, but there’s still a long way to go for banks to have gender diversity at the top and middle levels,” said Smucker, whose Seattle-based firm focuses on gender-themed investing.

Credit Agricole SA ranked second, after Citigroup, among the 20 biggest banks, with women making up 47.6% of its board, followed by two other Paris-based lenders, Societe Generale and BNP Paribas, Bloomberg data show. Spain’s Banco Santander had 40% of its board populated with women, in line with recommendations from local regulators.

The U.K.’s Barclays placed last among European banks with just a quarter of its board made up of women. Wells Fargo had less — with 23.1% — the worst among the largest U.S. lenders.

While banks in Asia account for almost half of the world’s 20 largest lenders, they fare the worst when it comes to women in the boardroom. China Construction Bank Corp. topped the region with 23.1%.

China’s Bank of Communications, Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Mizuho Financial Group, trailed all banks globally, according to Bloomberg data. Li Xiaohui is the only woman on Bank of Communications’s board, while Eriko Sakurai and Izumi Kobayashi are the sole women on Sumitomo Mitsui’s and Mizuho Financial’s boards, respectively.

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