Saturday, 8 March 2014

Reflection: Past, present and future

It can be said with no doubt that in the past there have been issues concerning women in banking. Throughout her entire career Gay Liston could see the segregation although it did start to progress towards the 1980's. She hoped for a future that would bring equal opportunities in banking. Bridie Bourke, felt that there were occasional issues in the sector. However as long as you made your voice heard you could receive the same opportunities as men. 

Taking a look at todays females leaders we can see the power they hold, the encouragement they provide, and the strive to produce excellence they attain. The chairwoman of the Federal Reserve is seen by some as the most powerful woman ever to exist in the universe. These women show their concerns about having committees such as women in banking in their bank. After all their hard work to become a banker why should they be seen as women in banking?

Fundamentally women and men together can offer a diverse foundation for growth and prosperity. Working together, acknowledging and respecting each others differences and strengths. New processes can be developed and implemented thereby enabling the banking sector to reflect equity and equality in a sustainable system. Reflecting on the experiences Gay and Bridie shared with me it is clear that they understood the value of things not just their cost. This is an essential part of how banks and financial institutions must work in the future and we must embed this into the bedrock of the system. As the old saying goes by degrees castles are built, one brick at a time. 

Climbing the banking ladder in high heels

Women hold less than 10 percent of the top management posts at the euro-area’s biggest banks. 

“The situation is almost frozen at the top,” 

said Helene Perivier, a gender-issues economist at France’s Observatory for Economic Trends. Anti-discrimination rules are more credible in the U.S., forcing top financial institutions to provide strong signals by sharing powerful jobs to avoid sanctions(Benedetti-Valentini, 2014)On the 6th of March The Pennsylvania Bankers Association held its first stateside Women in Banking conference.  This is being hosted to promote awareness of the issues women face in banking. 

Statistics that measure men and women against each other in the top end of the banking sector can often be a little disheartening. Taking a different approach on how we measure could lead to a more positive, welcoming banking sector for women. To look at the growth rates from year on year, position on position, women are performing. They are making the top positions. And rightly so. Janet Yellen Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve a proven leader who is highly qualified for what Obama termed one of the most important nominations a president can make.  She is now considered the most powerful women in the history of the universe (Kolhatkar, 2013). Recovering from a sector that was not so long ago dominant by males, a sedimented layered set of changes could be better than disruptive change. 

Women are making significant advances in the banking sector in India, a country that women have suffered a second class status. Last year Arundhati Bhaatacharya was appointed chairwoman of State Bank of India. She became the first woman to hold the top position in the banks history (Ghosh, 2014).

Bernadette Macko is a former part-time teller, and is now the first vice president and corporate cash management manager at Provident. A few years back Provident planned to set out a group called women in banking. When Macko heard this she was uninterested. She explained she spent too much time trying to establish herself as a banker that she was not going to be suddenly branded as a woman in banking (cited in Johnston, 2014)

Chie Shimpo will next month be the first female to become president of Nomura Trust and Banking. This brokerage will be the first of the Japanese biggest banks to have a female president. The central bank, bank of Japan has just one woman on its nine-member board. She stated that she didn’t think it was a disadvantage for her being a woman in the banking sector (Business Standard, 2014)Christine Lagarde head the Internations Monetary Fund in 2011(Taibleson, 2014).Kamit Flug recently appointed governor of the Bank of Israel (Press, 2014). The list of these successful bankers goes on. However it could be argued that the working environment could become more female friendly to encourage women to apply. 

Despite being reflected as a women friendly sector, the majority of top positions in the banking industry have been occupied by men for several years. However, taking a look at some of these women above the evidence is pointing in a change in direction. The banking industry is showing that it does accept female bankers, although the ratio is low, the growth is high. Could the glass ceiling be shattering? On a day such as today, International Women's Day, its a time to reflect on the progress and plan for future development. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Bankers: Tunnel vision to the target

Motivation, drive, determination and competition are four crucial elements that are heightened when targets are set. In what was an extremely competitive sector, the pressure to make these targets came down to a matter of pride for most bankers. The reckless and relentless pursuit of ever optimistic goal and targets lead to the relaxing of rules and guidelines.

On the 27th of February I interviewed Bridie Bourke about her experiences in the banking sector. She progressed her position to a managers one from starting as bank official. Bridie Bourke is a former bank manager with National Irish Bank, currently known as Danske Bank. She worked with that bank for 32 years (1970-2002).

Like Gay Liston she had come into contact with gender inequality from a client. The glass ceiling remained as transparent as before. She gave me an example of a situation she encountered.

‘My manager had asked me to tell a male customer that we no longer required his custom (an awkward client that the bank could no longer deal with). At the meeting with this particular customer I explained to him what my manager explained to me, he replied with why are you here, your place is behind the kitchen sink’.

She explained to me that although she didn’t express her feelings at the time she felt intimidated by this man. Would he have responded like that to a male banker?

Bridie felt that the targets were the problem with the banking sector. Once they came into place risks were being taken that shouldn't have been just to meet the requirements, she herself said that she would have preferred not meet the target than give some a loan who she knew wouldn’t be able to pay it back. Generally she felt when it came to meeting targets women were more risk adverse. Looking in the Irish media today, I have not seen or heard of a woman in the court room for fraudulent activity like the men have. For example the most recent deals with Anglo Irish bankers. 

Numerous decisions were being made with lack of better judgement. Priorities were impaired, tunnel vision to the target was in force. Courageous and bold, versus the careful and controlled. Adam had to eat the apple. With a more diverse banking team, to be both courageous and controlled, brings a prosperous, more secure future in banking.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Society: The door was always open, the mind was always shut.

Does society reflect the banking sector, or does the banking sector reflect society? Society has indeed changed in the past 50 years for women especially in Ireland. The marriage ban in the 50‘s is now gone, equality legislation is in place and society is more liberal than in the past. 

I interviewed Gay Liston, a former bank manager of AIB (1948-1990) on the 18th of February this year. Seeking her inside views about her experience of of women in banking. The interview was conducted via phone call. After initial discussion I asked her 

“Did you ever experience any gender inequality in the banking sector?” 

she responded with a strong


Women in banks have not historically had the same opportunities as men, for a number of reasons diverging from deliberate male exclusion practices to the broken and often short term nature of many women’s work histories (Crompton, 1989)  Gay strengthened this argument by revealing woman in the same position as a man in the banking sector would always get paid less. 
She even experienced gender inequality from the customers, it would however have been from a very chauvinistic male client.

“Until the 70’s women were put on mainly operational jobs, no matter what skills they possessed”. 

As a manager she found it extremely aggravating seeing an average male being promoted over an intelligent woman. Although the door was always technically open to women, the mind was invariably shut. Stacey (1982) suggested that men could have been afraid of putting women in advisory roles as they were very important roles. This could reflect upon the fear of the unknown.

I asked her if the banking world suited a female’s lifestyle, initially she didn’t think too much into it, however she then recalled that often the meetings were held on a golf course, at a GAA match or even in a pub, all of which she said were only open to men. 

She concluded that there was a sense of some reform in the 80’s and hoped that it was a non-existent issue in society today. In 1980, the organisation Women in Banking was founded. The primary aim of the Group was to encourage more women to pursue a career in banking and provide a support network for those that had already begun. It is possible that through memetic isomorphism this organisation helped women in the Irish banking sector attain more opportunities. 

When we reflect back to those early days and the fact that there was a need to have a group such as Women in Banking, a group that still exists today;  we have to ask ourselves why it still exists in todays society and if it still fulfils the needs as envisaged by its founders.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Blog Introduction: Women in Banking

My blog is going to the address the topic of women in banking, it will focus on the commercial banking sector in Ireland. In doing so I would like to raise the question, is there a gender bias in the banking sector in both Ireland and abroad? In the banking sector there is a need for analysis and debate. It is a topic of much controversy, the aim of this blog is to determine whether this is a topic of substance or merely a stereotype that has reached its sell by date.

Lloyds TSB along with other commercial banks have addressed this issue by setting out a goal of gender quality in their bank by 2020. This recognises that there is a gap to fill, a bridge to build. It is a positive step in the right direction for the bank, but it does however imply that there are steps to take. Is this a generalisation of what all commercial banks should do, or is there a need for the others to do so?

The American Banker issued the top 25 women in banking, all proved to be extremely powerful and influential women in the banking sector. Further details on these women can be accessed here.

I will test the perception that there is a gender gap at managerial and executive levels in the banking sector in Ireland. To do this I will base my findings on discussions with two female bankers of at managerial levels and three female bankers at exectuive levels. Firstly, I will interview Gay Liston, a retired bank manager of AIB formally known as Munster and Leinster Bank, based in Cork from 1948 - 1990. The second general manager I will converse with will be Bridie Bourke who worked in Bank of Ireland (1970-2002). The executive level will be investigated through interviews with Margaret Sweeney, the former CEO of Post Bank, also the first female CEO in the banking sector in Ireland, Margaret Kavanagh an executive of AIB, and thirdly Carol Bolgers a former executive of Ulster Bank. These interviews will provide an inside view of what it takes to be a successful female in the banking sector and their opinion on gender inequality in the industry. 

Attracting and retaining the right people are critical elements to the success of any organisation (Yadav & Dabhade, 2014). It can be assumed that the more diverse range of employees in a bank or any other organisation gives a higher chance of optimisation for that bank or organisation. It can also lead to the development of questions. If there had been more women in the banking sector, could the financial crisis have been controlled better in Ireland or abroad? It will raise questions that may never obtain an accurate answer but ones that should be addressed to potentially prevent and control such events from reoccurring.