Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: Women Will Run Wall Street Before The White House

A woman will serve as chief executive officer at one of the five biggest U.S. banks before the nation gets its first female president, said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, at an event in Manhattan yesterday. While no woman is still in the running for president this year, “there are women at mid-level banks already,” she said. She believes it is more feasible that we will see women running Wall Street before we get a woman in the Oval Office.

Women account for 18% 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 Fortune 500 companies. They held 18% of director seats in the finance and insurance industries, according to Catalyst, a New York-based non-profit group that expands opportunities for women and business. They hold 17% 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. “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,” Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Vice Chairman Karen Peetz told Bloomberg.  “Everybody’s working on it.”

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.

But as great as someone like Peetz is, she is a unique commodity on Wall Street.  As Deal Journal writer Shira Ovide wrote: “Senior female executives on Wall Street are like bald eagles: Majestic, but extremely rare. And each top woman who leaves or is forced from her post will spark anew the “whither women” questions and stories about why Wall Street is dominated by dudes. At this point, Wall Street would love a few more top-ranking women, if only to stop those pesky questions.”

Since the financial crisis in 2008, women at the top have been taking a lot of falls: Erin Callan, the chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers, left months before the investment bank filed for bankruptcy. Zoe Cruz, the co-president of Morgan Stanley, was ousted in a management shake-up in late 2007. Terri Diallasted just a year as chief executive of Citigroup’s consumer business in North America. And Heidi Miller, the head of JPMorgan Chase’s international efforts who was once viewed as a potential successor to the chief executive, Jamie Dimon, is set to depart the company this year. 

Only four women are listed among more than 30 named executive officers at the six largest U.S. banks – JPMorgan Chase & Co.Bank of America Corp.Citigroup Inc.Wells Fargo & Co.Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley. “It’s a longshot because there are not very many senior women left in investment banking,” said Jeanne Branthover, a managing director and head of the global financial services practice at New York-based Boyden Global Executive Search Ltd. “How long will it take to hire them, fit them into your culture, see them succeed and promote them?”

But we do have more women in ruling positions in the finance industry than in Congress so that is a plus. “Most boards are thinking about diversity, most executive teams are thinking about diversity, so the ball is already rolling,” Peetz said. “There is definitely a momentum that I haven’t seen before.” And when looking at Peetz’s track record compared to Sarah Palin’s, my money is on Peetz.

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