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Are you a woman wanting to run a bank division? Canada, not U.S., is a good bet

Are you a woman wanting to run a bank division? Canada, not U.S., is a good bet
Business
More than a third of the 20 women in high-ranking positions at Canada’s six big lenders oversee revenue-generating operations, according to a Bloomberg survey of North American banks with assets of at least $100 billion.

Teri Currie is group head of Canadian personal banking at Toronto-Dominion Bank.  (Galit Rodan / Bloomberg)

Teri Currie is group head of Canadian personal banking at Toronto-Dominion Bank.  (Galit Rodan / Bloomberg)

That compares with about a quarter of the 58 female senior executives at the 17 largest U.S. banks.

In both countries, high-ranking women tend to be in charge of human resources or marketing, or in positions such as auditor, general counsel, chief risk officer or chief administrative officer.

But female executives in Canada are more likely than those in the U.S. to occupy the types of roles that contribute to the bottom line and can someday lead to becoming chief executive officer.

“In Canada, the banks are the bright spots in terms of progress for female representation at the executive and board level,” said Tanya van Biesen, executive director for Canada at Catalyst Inc., a non-profit that pushes to make workplaces better for women.

“They have been leading the way in terms of progressive policies, and you can see that net out in the numbers.”

Canadian banks are improving — perhaps at the expense of the U.S.

In recent months, Kelly Coffey, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s former head of private wealth, and Kristi Mitchem, who was CEO of asset management at Wells Fargo & Co., both left for Canadian firms.

In February, Coffey became CEO of Royal Bank of Canada’s City National Bank in Los Angeles, while Mitchem joins Bank of Montreal this month as head of global asset management.

And recently RBC said it hired BNY Mellon Markets CEO Michelle Neal to head its U.S. fixed income, currencies and commodities business out of New York.

Canada’s gains are due to a mix of legislation, regulation and a private-sector push to do better, van Biesen said.

Canadian banks have been subject to employment-equity law since 1995, and about 20 years later securities regulators began requiring Toronto Stock Exchange companies to disclose annually the number of women with board seats and executive roles.

The disclosures show that women make up 30 per cent to 45 per cent of roles at the level of vice-president and above at Canada’s six big banks. Competition in the nation’s concentrated banking industry also has helped, van Biesen said.

Teri Currie, who heads Canadian personal banking at Toronto-Dominion Bank, its biggest division, has been close to the issue since 2005.

She was then co-head of human resources, when the lender was establishing diversity and inclusion initiatives, including encouraging women to take leadership roles.

The percentage of women in the role of vice-president or higher was just above 20 per cent at the time, compared with 39 per cent today.

“We’ve made really good progress in that period of time,” Currie, 54, said in an interview. “But you are never done.”

Occupying roles such as Currie’s is key not only because they produce revenue, but also because future CEOs typically come from such positions.

In their 202 years of history, Canada’s major banks have never had a female CEO, though London-based HSBC Holdings Plc’s Canadian operation is led by Sandra Stuart, and Gillian Riley is CEO of Tangerine, Bank of Nova Scotia’s online division.

There are women leading U.S. banks, including KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney.

Bank of Montreal formed a task force for women’s advancement in the early 1990s, when women constituted 13 per cent of senior management. Now, a third of the bank’s board seats and 40 per cent of senior-leadership roles are held by women.

“I’ve been at the bank almost nine years now, and I would say that I haven’t faced any barriers because I’m a woman,” said Joanna Rotenberg, 42, who oversees wealth management.

Half of her division’s employees and more than 40 per cent of its senior management are female, she said.

“My job, as I see it as a leader, is to pay it forward and make sure others do as well. It’s not just talk, it’s action that has led to results.”

Christina Kramer said she’s taken advantage of initiatives aimed at helping women throughout her 32 years at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, advancing to group head of Canadian personal and small-business banking, the lender’s largest division.

“I’ve had mentors along the way that have really helped me in terms of shaping my career, my knowledge, my experience base,” she said.

Kramer, 52, also is trying to pay it forward, holding monthly forums for female leaders at all levels of the bank.

“Innovating and adapting to change is really critical for the industry and for a bank, and in order to innovate you need to have diversity of thought, diversity of experience and diversity of background.”

At Canada’s six largest banks, women made up 58 per cent of the workforce and held almost 38 per cent of senior-management roles as of 2017, according to the Canadian Bankers Association.

Thirty years earlier, women accounted for just 2.6 per cent of senior management. Women hold at least a third of board seats at each of the six big Canadian lenders.

Banks compare well with the rest of corporate Canada: Just 15 per cent of board seats at the nation’s companies are held by women, according to a September 2018 report by the Canadian Securities Administrators.

About two-thirds of 648 companies had at least one female executive.

Canadian banks have better female representation on boards than almost all their large U.S. counterparts, according to the survey of 23 banks. That’s noteworthy, said Royal Bank chair Kathleen Taylor, because boards can push management to consider diversity when cultivating future executives.

“If you look at who are in the top jobs today, whether they’re men or women, whether they’re visible minorities or not, the seeds around that executive success were planted a very long time ago,” said Taylor, 61, who became Royal Bank’s first chairwoman in 2013.

“It really matters what job a young woman is in today for whether or not she’s going to be able to have a career progression that gets her to the most senior management team level in 10 to 12 years.”
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