Bull Bear Report Dec 06 2010

More Women on Top at Big Banks

By julie steinberg

Women are filling more top management positions at U.S. banks, according to a new study.

A November 2010 Women at the Top (WATT) survey found that of 523 executive positions within the top 50 commercial banks, 91 positions, or 17.4%, were filled by women. That's almost a five percent increase from 2004, when women held 12.6% of management positions at the 50 largest U.S. commercial banks.

"Historically, women have been one step down on the ladder, and in some ways they may have been safer on that rung on the last two years," said Regina Barr, founder of the WATT network, a community of women at or aspiring to the C-suite. "We do have more senior-level women in the pipeline, but there's very few in those C-level positions."

There are exactly ten C-level positions held by women at the top commercial banks, the survey found. There are zero chief executives, three chief operating officers, two chief information officers, four chief financial officers, and one chief administrative officer. The survey didn't specify what firms had women in those positions.

Barr said she found the results surprising, given the financial crisis, and had expected a contraction in the numbers. Still, she said more women are taking jobs with profit-and-loss responsibility and fewer are in traditional "female" roles like customer service, HR and marketing.

An analysis earlier this year from FINS found that women have been disappearing from the finance industry, with 141,000, or 2.6% of female finance workers, leaving or getting laid off over the past 10 years.

Now that Dodd-Frank has made the inclusion of women and minorities a priority, Barr believes banks will be forced to focus on gender diversity.

"I'm not necessarily a fan of quotas," she said, "but I am a fan of reporting. By having requirements to report [the number of women and minorities at a finance firm] it forces organizations to inspect. The more transparency we have the better."

WATT will conduct its next survey of women at commercial banks in two or three years to observe the change that occurs over a longer period of time. Barr is optimistic about the prospect of more women at the top, she said. "It's slow going, but in the next three to five years we will see the numbers moving in the right direction. Companies will need to look at a broader talent pool, and that talent pool will have to include women."

Write to Julie Steinberg

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