Getting to the Top: Women in the C-Suite


Women are largely absent from the leadership ranks of the financial services sector worldwide. While they comprise two-thirds of financial support staff and half of professionals, their numbers decline as they move up the hierarchy to less than one-quarter of all executives. The unequal representation of women in decision-making roles of financial service institutions results in a huge untapped opportunity. This session highlighted the challenges financial institutions face to achieving a gender balanced and inclusive senior leadership, and showcased best practice approaches and initiatives to advancing and retaining women in senior leadership.

Key Points

  • – Mercer data on the global financial services industry shows that at the support level, women outnumber men. But moving up from there, women leave at higher rates (even when women are actively being recruited), and they are not promoted enough. Only 21 percent of executives in financial services institutions are women.
  • – The root causes of the gender imbalance at the executive level are a male-dominated culture, lack of female role models, lack of flexible work/balance and bias.
  • – Financial institutions have an opportunity to go back to their organizations and make a difference.
  • – NatWest set a target for 30 percent of senior executives across the organization to be women by 2020, and now the number is 37 percent. The bank is currently focusing on getting to 30 percent women senior executives in each business area – personal banking, commercial and private, finance, HR, etc.  And by 2025, the target is to be 50/50.
  • – Banco Galicia in Argentina has top management that is 80 percent men. Women’s development is one of the main pillars of the bank’s strategy to reach its goal of 30 percent.
  • – It can sometimes be challenging finding women who want to be in the C-Suite. Culture and bias seem to be main drivers holding women back in Bangladesh. BRAC Bank is focused on these pillars, in an effort to boost is gender balance at the top.
  • – FMO is prioritizing achieving 50/50 at the top and also considering the gender diversity in leadership of the companies it directly invests in.
  • – If every company would report on gender balance, hiring, promotion, engagement scores, average pay, bonuses and turnover per level, per department and by gender – then we will make progress.
  • – Women in the pipeline need to be a focus – as does offering opportunities to external hires.
  • – We need to enable women’s confidence. Leadership courses and mentoring/coaching programs for women, building female role models, and re-structuring performance objectives and job descriptions are all helpful levers.
  • – Sponsors are critical to women’s success, as are taking advantage of talent programs and professional development opportunities.
  • – Each senior leader needs a target and to be held accountable for it.
  • – Tackle unconscious bias with training.
  • – Women should be on every shortlist and on every selection panel. At the very least, if the woman doesn’t get a job, she gets a sponsor and personal development plan.
  • – Banco Galicia found that if you pay a little bit more to high-potential women, they will stay with the organization. There has to be a soft push for them to grow.


ROBERT BAKER, Leader of Diversity & Inclusion Consulting, Mercer 
(Member Content: Presentation)

SELIM R. F. HUSSAIN, Managing Director & CEO, BRAC Bank


JULIE BAKER, Head of Enterprise & Community Finance Commercial & Private Banking, NatWest

CONSTANZA GORLERI, Sustainability Manager, Banco Galicia



Unfortunately based on where we are now, we have a greater chance of seeing pigs fly than making enough progress towards 50/50 in the C-Suite
— Robert Baker


The topic is a challenge for us, to be honest. … Out of 10 senior executives reporting to me, we had 2 women – and one resigned a couple of weeks ago.
— Selim R. F. Hussain

It’s not about making equal opportunities. If you want to make it fair, you have to give more opportunities to women. … It’s about hiring the right person for the team.
— Peter van Mierlo


When I started with the bank years ago, people assumed I was the secretary. NatWest looks very different today than when I originally joined.
— Julie Baker

Women’s higher education is greater, and they complete their degrees faster than men. … Our challenge is around getting women into decision-making positions.
— Constanza Gorleri