Cecilia Ronan is convinced that her father had a decisive influence on her successful career. The Irishwoman is the CEO of Citibank Europe, which is also responsible for the bank’s business in Ireland. And as the first woman ever in this position. “I am the oldest of eight children and have six brothers. And my father always encouraged me that I can achieve just as much as the boys. “
With Citi, she found an employer who has been ticking just like her father for years. And that can be seen in the management floor – for example in Silvia Carpitella. From the start, she had the feeling that the bank would value equality and diversity, she says today, after having worked for Citi for three decades. She is now the CFO of Citibank Europe. “This has increased continuously over the years, more communication, more attention, underpinned by a comprehensive strategy.”
How does the “System Citi” work? “With intent,” says Kristine Braden about the bank’s equal rights strategy. And that works with success, says the American, who as the so-called Europe Cluster Head is responsible for business in 22 European countries.
As recently as 2010, the bank had six women as country managers, now there are 18. “We realized that we had to build a pipeline to prepare women to take on these roles. So that when the opportunity arises, they are ready and successful. “
A woman at the top of the board
The bank will soon be able to show the most visible success of this strategy at the very top – at its own top: From February 2021, the bank will be led by a CEO with Jane Fraser. She will be the first ever at one of the leading addresses on Wall Street and one of the very few CEOs in the international financial scene.
In the coming year, 36 percent of all jobs from the position of Assistant Vice Presidents upwards in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are to be filled by women. The bank has already reached its goal by less than a percentage point. Even in countries that are not pioneers in terms of equality, the country organizations are led by women – in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria or Uganda.
“In Europe, Citi is clearly one of the banks with the most women in exciting management positions,” confirms Angela Hornberg, founder of AHC Capital, a personnel consultancy with a focus on executives.
Women in the banking industry have not had an easy time of it to this day. Data from the McKinsey management consultancy show that men and women are equal when they start their careers, but even at the level of Vice Presidents, the proportion of women has shrunk to 33 percent. In the boardroom it is then only 26 percent.
One trigger was the financial crisis
But why does it work better at Citi? Cecilia Ronan sees a trigger in the financial crisis of all things. “In the time that followed, one question kept coming up: Would we have acted differently as an organization if we had had more different perspectives around the table? That applies to the entire industry, it needed such a trigger. ”In addition, external pressure supported the discussion, says Silvia Carpitella, referring to legislative initiatives on women’s quotas in a number of European countries.
Because the bank is already active around the globe, diversity has long been a central feature, adds Braden. “In my early days in the Hong Kong trading room, there was a Chinese woman next to me, a French man behind me, another American woman and then a Korean woman next to me. We live diversity at the bank – every day and in all its forms. “
With a view to equality, the strategy has become even more concrete today: The credo is to hire more women, promote them and then keep them in the company. They don’t pay lip service, emphasizes Ronan. “This is integrated into our scorecards, our performance appraisal, the hiring process and also in the specifications that we make to service providers or recruitment consultants.” For applications and recruitment, for example, both genders must be represented for candidates as well as in the Citi selection committees.
For more than two decades, the “Citi Women” network has therefore also supported exchange within the individual country organizations and beyond. The members set goals for the individual markets themselves. After all, the needs in the more than 100 national companies are very different, says Braden.
Often, however, regional impulses would ultimately result in larger initiatives that would be extended to the entire group. A new network has recently been added that deals with the compatibility of family and work. At the top is Braden himself.
Germany does poorly in Europe
During her time as Citi country manager in Switzerland, she realized how difficult a career is for working mothers – not least because students in the Swiss Confederation come home for lunch. Ronan, on the other hand, was surprised at how many female bank managers she met on her first business trip to Poland ten years ago. “The political history of the country is responsible for this, they explained to me. By definition, we were all the same, ”she reports today.
Germany does not do very well in this cultural comparison within Europe. At least that is the experience of HR consultant Angela Hornberg. “It is not for nothing that women in Germany have made careers in the financial sector almost exclusively at foreign institutes. That is changing, but only very slowly, ”she sums up.
The Citi managers are more cautious about this: “At my first meetings in Germany, I was regularly congratulated on my role as a woman,” recalls Carpitella with a laugh. That was nice, but in her previous stations her leadership role was treated much more naturally, regardless of her gender.
Trigger for social change
Braden compares her experiences with the region in which she worked before moving to Europe. “Compared to Asia, where diversity is very important in terms of culture and gender, it feels different in Europe. Citi has made significant strides on the continent. But the industry as a whole in countries like Switzerland and Germany gives the impression of lagging behind in terms of diversity. “
In order to change that, all three emphasize the role of role models: “What you cannot see cannot be emulated,” says Ronan. It is the responsibility of women leaders to stand by the next generation. “I do this for my daughter too. I want her to see that society is changing, opening up. And that you can achieve anything if you are good. “