Boss Lady

C Suite changes: Are there enough women in the financial C suite?


While the financial industry is acknowledging the need for greater gender diversity at the C Suite executive level, it’s been slow to realize this goal.

In North America, women make up more than half of the entry-level positions in the financial services industry, according to research from McKinsey and Despite that, the number of women who are members of the financial C suite is just one in five.

According to a survey carried out by the Volt Data Lab agency between April and May 2017, in more than 400 sampled companies listed on the Stock Exchange (Bovespa), only 215 C Suite senior executive management positions (director or vice-presidency), among 2,043 verified , are filled by women — a mere 10.5%. Only 17 of the companies (4.4%) have women as chief executives (CEOs). Of these, some hold the presidency of more than one company in the same group, and the total number of female CEOs drops to 12.

The situation in the boardroom is not better: of the 2,647 effective seats verified, only 203 were occupied by women (7.7%). This puts us far away from the Nordic countries, which have the highest percentages of female participation in Councils, in the double digits — Norway (40.5%), Sweden (27.5%), Finland (26.8%) and Denmark (17.2%), according to data compiled by the Institute of Corporate Governance. In Bovespa’s 411 companies, there were only 19 collegiate bodies chaired by women, less than 5%.

The stock exchange is a large ecosystem with companies of various sizes and different levels of governance, but even in the segment whose companies, in theory, should adopt “a highly differentiated corporate governance standard”, women are lacking. In the nearly 130 companies in the study, only one in ten of the top executive positions are held by women (below the overall total). In Councils the number is even smaller, 6.6% of C Suite executive level seats occupied by women, also below the general average.

The 2017 data are indistinguishable from a survey carried out in 2009 by the Institute of Corporate Governance. The proportion of women in effective C Suite executive level on the Board of Directors of companies for seven years was also 7.7%.

A series of historical factors (such as late conquests of rights) and social factors (such as the belief that motherhood is an obstacle in one’s career) culminated in the prevalence of a male environment at the top of world corporations. This picture has changed, but at a slow pace.

Despite those numbers, the vast majority of financial services companies surveyed by McKinsey had made a commitment to gender diversity. At least 90 percent of those firms believed that greater gender diversity helps companies perform better. And the numbers back that up: Those companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams outperform on profitability by 21 percent and are 27 percent more likely to demonstrate superior value creation.

There are additional signs that trends are changing. Research from Deloitte showed that, while women’s representation remains below parity, it is on the rise. In fact, the overall proportion of women in the C suite rose to 27.9 percent in 2019 from 18.6 percent in 2010.

Of course, there are a number of high-profile women heading up financial services companies. Dorothy Savarese is CEO of Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank; Nandita Bakhshi is CEO of Bank of the West; Stacy Hodges was hired in 2017 by NexBank as its CFO. These are just a few examples of women stepping into power positions at respected firms.

Still, even within this changing cultural climate, one question looms large: Why aren’t there more women sitting at the executive table? One might assume that the number should be in line with the number of women who begin working in the industry, but those numbers don’t pan out. Rather, women occupy 20 percent of executive committee roles and 22 percent of board positions, as the Harvard Business Review points out.

For one, a woman’s prospects are significantly worse in the financial services than in other industries, according to research conducted by Mercer. Women are more likely to leave the industry than men, or to reduce their level of ambition around the point in their careers where they would need to make more effort to progress.

The same research showed that, in many cases, the industry may still be struggling with unconscious biases and gender-role expectations for the C Suite executive level. The overt sexism of the past may have largely been extinguished, but there is still progress to be made.

Whatever the current situation, it’s obvious that more needs to be done — not just for cultural cache, but for financial reasons as well. An investment in gender diversity yields positive dividends as far as performance, value, and talent are concerned.

To succeed, a commitment needs to be made by all leaders in the financial services industry and others to move toward parity. But whether it’s a question of profits or fairness, financial services firms need to make a concerted effort to change their corporate cultures or risk losing the talent of women in the industry and the confidence of their female clients. It may be a price they can’t afford to pay.

“It will take a while (to have a greater female presence). You see how long men are in the workforce, and how long women are… it’s much shorter,” says Chieko Aoki, president and founder of the Blue Tree hotel chain. “The number of women nominated for positions such as CEO is still small. Men network more, know each other more and end up referring other men.”

Currently, only about 35% of companies have at least one woman on the Board of Directors or in the top management, according to the Volt survey.

“In my view, when we consider 400 or 600 companies, of all sizes, and the amount of opportunity we have within these organizations, I believe that we would be able to put a woman on each Board”, says Carla Bellangero, partner -auditor of KPMG consultancy and representative, in Rio de Janeiro, of Women Corporate Directors (WCD) — a worldwide organization that, among other things, helps executives in the search for opportunities, training and expanding their network of relationships.

About Andrea Toulsen'

Recommended for you