Why Aren’t There More Women Leaders in Banking?

2-11-15-Jack.pngI’ve never understood why there aren’t more women CEOs and directors in corporate America. Or a woman president for that matter.

It’s no secret (least of all to them) that women have had a difficult time penetrating the upper ranks of senior management in U.S. companies, as well as the boardroom.  My colleague, Managing Director Naomi Snyder, wrote about this in the second quarter 2014 issue of Bank Director magazine in her very insightful feature story, “Door Half Closed: Women and Minorities on Bank Boards.” It doesn’t make sense to me that any company would significantly shrink the available talent pool by failing to actively recruit or promote women into C-Suite position, or appoint them to the board.

My views on this were perhaps shaped by my experience growing up. My mother, who turned 93 in December, often complains that she can’t get as much done as she used to and stubbornly refuses to accept that maybe it’s because she is, well, 93! (Age is something that she makes few concessions to.) I grew up in a working class family and my mother worked outside of the home, as did my father. He owned a construction company. She was a branch manager for a small savings and loan and later worked as an auditor for a CPA firm. My mother also kept the books for my father’s business and would spend several hours every Thursday night writing out pay checks for his employees. The construction business has its ups and downs and my father often said that the money she earned was as important as the money he earned because sometimes her money was the only money coming in. Their marriage had a great deal of equality when it came to most things—money being one of them—and he was a great role model for me, as was (and is) she.  

The odd thing about the struggle that women face climbing into the upper reaches of corporate management and governance is that a majority of Americans consider women just as capable of being good political and business leaders as men, according to a recent study by the highly respected Pew Research Center. “[Most] Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders,” the survey states. 

Why, then, are women still being excluded from power positions in corporate America? Again, the Pew survey: “[Topping] the list of reasons, about four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. Similar shares say the electorate and corporate America are just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.”

There has been some progress in recent years, at least on the business side. The website posts a list of women who are CEOs of S&P 500 companies, including Mary Barra at General Motors Corp. Who would have thought that a woman would ever run a U.S. car company? Unfortunately the only woman bank CEO on the list is Beth Mooney at KeyCorp. also reports that only 19 percent of directors at U.S. stock index companies are women, and I doubt the numbers for the banking industry are much better than that. 

The great majority of bank CEOs are men, as are most bank directors. It is this mostly-male group that determines who gets promoted and appointed to positions of power within the industry, and it is within their means to begin to balance banking’s gender dynamic. If basic fairness and equity doesn’t lead them to do so, then this should: Roughly half of the industry’s customers are women, and shouldn’t any company’s leadership reflect to a large degree its customer base?


Jack Milligan


Jack Milligan is editor-at-large of Bank Director magazine, a position to which he brings over 40 years of experience in financial journalism organizations. Mr. Milligan directs Bank Director’s editorial coverage and leads its director training efforts. He has a master’s degree in Journalism from The Ohio State University.