Gender Diversity in the C-Suite

Walking the Talk

This panel discussion highlighted that women represent only around 15 percent of senior management positions in the financial services industry. All organizations on the panel discussed the targets they have implemented to increase female representation and some of the techniques they are using to reach those targets. They all noted that increasing female representation is hard work and requires commitment from the top, as well as many changes in processes and policies throughout the organization.

Key Points

  • Research from Mercer reveals that women represent just 15 percent of senior management roles across the global financial services industry, and if nothing is done, this figure will drop to 12 percent. Companies need to focus on hiring, promoting and retaining women.
  • Starting in 2014, NatWest put gender diversity at the heart of its five-year plan. The bank aimed to raise female representation across the organization from 32 percent to 46 percent and female leaders to 30 percent, with specific targets for each department rather than an aggregate.
    • To create these changes, the bank took action, ramping up its internal networking (both formal and informal efforts), increasing the reach of professional development programs for female employees, removing language bias in job advertisements, working to find alternative channels to attract talent into the hiring pipeline, implementing requirements around female representation on shortlists and hiring panels, changing hiring decision-making processes, and implementing unconscious bias training for employees. All of the efforts require commitment from top leadership all the way down and entail hard work.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank has set a target to have 40 percent women staff across the institution.
    • The bank noticed that at middle-management level, more women leave, more men are hired, and more men are promoted. To combat this, the IDB adjusted its policies around flexible working and parental leave and created short-term work assignments.
    • The bank implemented networking groups and a mentoring program to support women’s advancement and professional development. It also designed systems and programs to work with women who are slower to get promoted on areas like speaking up, confidence and taking on stretch assignments.
    • The IDB’s Operational Policy on Gender Equality in Development improves the bank’s ability to support its member countries’ commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment and commits the bank to applying a gender perspective systematically across its development interventions through proactive action (gender mainstreaming and direct investment) and preventative actions (gender safeguards).
    • EDGE Certification helps the IDB target areas where they need to improve. They have implemented a Gender Imperative task force to address the changes.
  • At KCB Kenya, diversity is about gender as well as ethnic background and political affiliation. As women are rising at work, the bank has found the importance of promoting a holistic conversation that includes both men and women. Focusing on the talent pipeline, KCB Kenya has adjusted its practices and policies to bring more women in and up the corporate ladder.
  • BancoEstado set a target for 48 percent of senior managers to be women. They found ingrained biases were leading to different opportunities for women compared to men at the bank. For example, women were often not considered for promotions if they involved relocation due to the assumption that they would not be able to move their families. BancoEstado found that gender sensitization training for all levels of staff was crucial to changing this company culture. At the same time, the bank took a critical look at its policies and practices, comparing them locally to the Certification of Gender Equality in Chile.
  • In many organizations the men challenge why support is needed for women to succeed, and in some cases they feel threatened by specific initiatives that target women internally. It is important to humanize the conversation, starting with an understanding that women are currently not accessing the same opportunities men are and what the benefits would be to both women and men if the gender gap were closed. Ultimately, buy-in and commitment from both sexes is essential to the success of any gender diversity and inclusion efforts.


Partner & Global Leader of Financial Services, Mercer
Presentation (members only)

Human Resources Director, Personal & Business Banking; Royal Bank of Scotland

Human Resources Business Partner, KCB Kenya

Organizational Development Manager, BancoEstado

Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Inter-American Development Bank


This is about the business case for gender diversity.
— Nigel Carter

There is not one silver bullet. This work requires commitment from top leadership all the way down, and hard work. And we are up for continuing that.
— Lynne Burns

As you go up the corporate ladder, women really fall off.
— Rachael Kingori

The future is inclusive.
— Gonzalo Terminel

Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Many men within these organizations don’t realize that they have been privileged for all these years.
— Julie T. Katzman