Are we ever likely to see a woman rule the Whitehouse in the short to medium term? Well, if you believe the words of U.S. Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, then the answer is most definitely no. Ms Gillibrand believes that a woman will more likely serve as chief executive officer at one of the five biggest U.S. banks before the nation gets its first female president. Speaking at aevent at Radio City Music Hall in New York, designed to develop and promote leadership by women in business and politics, the Senator argued that although there is no longer a woman still running for president this year, there are already women at mid-level banks, specifically women like KeyCorp CEO, Beth Mooney. Mooney, 56, the KeyCorp (KEY) executive, last year became the first female CEO among the 20 largest independent U.S. banks. The Cleveland-based company is ranked as Ohio’s second-largest lender.
Gillibrand, a 45-year-old Democrat, joined executives from Citigroup, Delta Air Lines Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) to participate in a mentoring programme, which matched senior employees from Wall Street and other industries as mentors for junior women workers. The event, organized by the Partnership for New York City and the Council of Urban Professionals, drew around 100 attendees, including Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Vice Chairman Karen Peetz, who said it was her fervent hope that women will soon lead the biggest lenders as well as the nation. Peetz was named 2011’s most powerful woman in banking by American Banker. She is her company’s first female vice chairman, overseeing the financial markets and treasury services group within the world’s largest custody bank. In addition to serving on BNY Mellon’s executive committee, Peetz is head of the firm’s Women’s Initiatives Network, described as a global resource for the professional development and advancement of women at BNY Mellon with 50 chapters globally. She argued that structures are already in place to allow women to advance; all that’s missing is co-operation, determination and a commitment to make it work:
“You have to be able to see that there’s a pipeline in order to imagine that is going to happen, and I think there are pipelines in both. Everybody’s working on it now. As for the current scarcity of women at top levels –well, I don’t think it’s some sinister plot,” she said.
Women only account for 18 percent of executive officers in the finance and insurance industries, according to a 2011 Catalyst Inc. census that analyzed data on females in upper management at the Fortune 500 companies. They held 18 percent of director seats in the finance and insurance industries, according to Catalyst, a New York-based non-profit group that expands and diversifies opportunities for women and business.
In contrast, they currently hold 17 percent of the seats in Congress; including 17 of the 100 Senate seats, and six of the 50 governorships, according to data compiled by Off the Sidelines. Gillibrand started that program in 2011 to spur women to “make a difference in their community” by becoming part of decision-making in government and politics. Since 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to run as a vice-presidential candidate for the Democrats, Sarah Palin has been the only other woman whose name has appeared on a presidential election ticket for the two major parties, serving as the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee.
Both Gillibrand and Peetz believe that the situation will only change and improve if a conscious effort is made to speed up the advancement of women in both the board room and politics. Businesses and government have already accepted the need for diversity, but more needs to be done. What’s actually needed is a much quicker promotion network through which suitable women can be identified as potential high fliers, and then fast-tracked and mentored to give them the necessary skillsets to be able to step up for the most responsible positions.
“Because we’ve all bought into this concept of diversity of thought, I think every Fortune 500 board and executive group wants more diversity.” Peetz said. “We have to start earlier with getting people to have the requisite skills to sit at that level.”
Various studies have illustrated that the inclusion of women as leaders yields better results for shareholders. Companies with three or more women board members in at least four of five years outperformed companies without women by 46 percent, according to a 2011 Catalyst study that measured return on equity.
“When women are at the table, they problem-solve differently, they see risk differently, and they see success differently.” Senator Gillibrand said. “They define a different set of parameters, which when heard alongside male voices, result in a better outcome.”