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Only around 38 Fortune 500 companies are currently run by women. An even greater disparity exists in terms of race, with only five Black CEOs present on the Fortune 500 as of this year.
Citigroup Inc. recently announced 53-year-old Jane Fraser as its new chief executive officer. The move makes Fraser Citi’s first ever female chief executive and one of the few women leading top American banks and corporations.
Fraser’s appointment comes on the back of a decades long career across a variety of roles spanning investment banking, wealth management and more, with Fraser herself credited with helping Citi out of the dire straits it found itself in during the 2008 financial crisis.
Fraser was appointed president of Citi in 2019, which was largely seen as the first step on the road to her appointment as the group’s first ever female CEO.
Fraser’s appointment highlights the continued poor diversity record of Wall Street, the financial industry and big business. Only around 38 Fortune 500 companies are currently run by women, which, in percentage terms, boils down to 7.6%. An even greater disparity exists in terms of race, with only five Black CEOs present on the Fortune 500 as of this year.
Described as a “rising star in the financial industry,” Fraser’s appointment caps off what has been a continual rise to the top of one of America’s largest banking groups, with total assets of some US$1.63 trillion.
With Citi’s current CEO, Michael Corbat, set to step down in February 2021, Fraser will have to immediately address the aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent financial fallout, as well as the potential for rising unemployment and its knock-on effects for the world’s largest credit card issuer.
Rise to the top
Born in Scotland in 1967, Jane Fraser is a graduate of two prestigious universities, having secured her bachelor’s degree from the University of Cambridge and completing an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1994.
Before her time at Citibank, Fraser worked in a number of roles throughout the financial industry, including for the multinational investment firm Goldman Sachs.
Following a decade spent at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Fraser joined Citigroup in 2004, helping the bank to ride out the 2008 financial crisis.
Citigroup had received some US$45 billion in taxpayer-funded bailouts during the financial crisis, some of the largest bailouts given to any bank worldwide.
In June 2015, Fraser became the first foreigner (having been born in Scotland) and the first woman to serve as the CEO of Citigroup’s Latin America operations. In this role, Fraser had direct responsibility over Citibanamex, a huge organization of some 1,400 retail branches and 29 million retail banking consumers throughout Mexico.
After her success in this role, Fraser was even touted as a potential CEO at rival Wells Fargo in 2019, before that company instead appointed Charles Scharf in September 2019.
One Citi investor described Fraser as “very, very intelligent and a thoughtful, strategic thinker. She’s a consensus builder who listens to everyone and then takes decisive action.”
For her own part, Fraser has described the difficult balancing act between the highflying executive she has built herself to be and her life as what she calls a “working mother.”
Describing her first years in the financial industry in the 1990s, Fraser told an audience at a women’s networking event in 2016 that “there were so few women in financial services” and of those who were there, “none of them were that happy.”
But her recent appointment as chief executive officer of Citi, coming on the back of her appointment as president in 2019, signals another step toward achieving gender parity in what is still a male-dominated industry, especially at its highest levels.
Beth Mooney, the former executive of KeyCorp, reacted to news of Fraser’s appointment by stating that she had “always hoped that by the time I retired that there would be other women in C.E.O. roles” and described Fraser’s appointment as an “incredibly proud day.”
Despite Fraser’s appointment, high level executive roles nonetheless continue to be monopolized by men, both in the financial industry and in corporate executive positions more generally.
Within the financial industry in the United States, only four out of 200 public financial services companies have female CEOs. These are Synchrony Financial, Franklin Resources Inc, Nasdaq Inc and CIT Group Inc.
The top global banks generally are also poorly represented by women. The UK’s NatWest Group and the European Central Bank are two other comparably large institutions represented by women in what is an otherwise male-dominated environment.
Fraser may be a sign that things are changing, however slowly. In 2019, JPMorgan Chase announced a shuffle of its top management figures, promoting two female candidates to roles that could one day see them take over as chief executive of the largest bank in the US.
The New York Times has also highlighted a group of female “rising stars” in the industry who could one day secure top executive positions, much in the same way as Fraser has done.
Though their numbers remain few and there is still a long path toward better gender diversity in corporate America as a whole, Jane Fraser’s appointment remains both positive and welcome news for an industry that is slowly but surely changing.
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