The Plague-Ground — There’s No Power Like CEO Power

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Next February, Jane Fraser will become the CEO of Citigroup, making her the first female CEO of a giant Wall Street bank.

This is great, long overdue and awkward news. Because it begs the question of how far women have advanced in terms of real corporate power, especially here in Canada.

Frankly, they’ve clawed their way to the podium. They’re swarming all over the podium. But they’re still not able to own it. The question is, why?

I’ll use our five big banks as a proxy for real power because they control so much of it in Canada.

None of our big banks has a female CEO, or has ever had one. True, Sandra Stuart has led HSBC Canada since 2015, but HSBC in Canada is much smaller than the smallest of our Big 5 banks.

Lots of women are in senior management at our banks. 37% and rising. Brava.

More and more women are on bank boards. 39%. Brava.

Speaking of boards, Katie Taylor is the Chair of our biggest bank, Royal Bank of Canada, which is North America’s fifth-largest financial institution, not far from Jane Fraser’s Citigroup, which is third. But she’s just one in five bank chairs. Not so Brava.

In fact, if we looked at those numbers again, but from a man’s perspective, the problem would be clearer:

80% of the Chairs of their Boards are men.

63% of senior management are men, and 61% of board members are men.

To say that this is a lot better than 10 years ago doesn’t really touch the issue of why 100% of Canadian banks are led by men.

This question could be viewed as peevish before COVID and the social upheaval in America, but I don’t think any more. You can hold all the non-white senior management and board members of Canada’s big banks in a thimble, and you’d need an electron microscope to find a Black or Indigenous woman or man at the top of these bank’s power structures.

One thing I’ve noticed with women who are apex predators in the financial world is that their male partners often look after the home front for them.

In 2010, Dame Helena Morrisey founded the 30% club, the global movement to get more women on corporate boards. She was also CEO of Newton Investments which manages $77 billion in assets. She and her husband also have nine children (yes, all their own) and years ago, he gave up his job as a financial journalist and then his job as a Buddhist priest, to be a full-time house-husband to their brood.

As for Jane Fraser, the new Citigroup CEO, Wikipedia notes: “Fraser is married and the mother of two sons. Her husband, a native of Cuba, left his job as a bank manager in Europe during the financial crisis of 2008 to spend more time caring for their young children.”

Maybe what women need — and our banks need more — is men like these. After all, they’re doing what millions of women have done for hundreds of years.


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Bob Ramsay is a Toronto writer, communications consultant and speaker series host: The Plague-Ground is his daily blog.

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