A Female CEO of a Big Bank? The Odds Are Now Greater Than Zero

  • Four of five biggest U.S. banks have two women in the wings
  • Study says more than one woman necessary to break status quo

JPMorgan COO Matt Zames Is Leaving After 13 Years

When JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Operating Officer Matt Zames, long considered a CEO-in-waiting, announced his decision to leave the bank last week, attention turned to other executives on the bench -- and for the first time, there’s a non-zero chance the bank’s next leader will be a woman.

That’s because two women -- Asset & Wealth Management CEO Mary Callahan Erdoes and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake -- remain in Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s inner circle, and having more than one in the running is important, researchers say. When there’s a single female candidate among four finalists, the odds are statistically zero that she’ll get the job, according to a study from the Harvard Business Review.

Increase the number of female finalists from one to two, and the odds increase to 50 percent. “If you have one woman in there you’re never going to give her full consideration – she’s the token,” said Stefanie Johnson, an assistant professor at University of Colorado at Boulder and one of the authors of the 2016 study. “When you put two women in the pool then you actually have to look at their qualifications.”

Four of the five biggest U.S. banks now have two women in roles that put them in contention for the CEO job, according to an analysis of the companies’ leadership committees. (Senior positions such as auditor or human resources chief were excluded because they rarely lead to the top spot.)

Watch More: BofA CEO Brian Moynihan says banks should hire more women.

At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Isabelle Ealet is the only woman on the management committee with a role -- co-head of trading -- that would typically make her a candidate to succeed CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Ealet has maintained an extremely low profile and some colleagues say they doubt she wants the spotlight that comes with the CEO title.

Marianne Lake

Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Until recently, an all-male on-deck circle was the norm. Before JPMorgan’s Dimon became CEO in 2005, there were no likely female successors among the senior leaders, SEC filings show. The last time Citigroup Inc. and Morgan Stanley replaced their CEOs, in 2012 and 2010 respectively, there weren’t any women among the obvious internal candidates.

“We believe it’s essential to build a pipeline of diverse talent at Citi and are focused on attracting, developing, advancing and retaining women at all levels of the firm,” a Citigroup spokeswoman said in a statement. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan declined to comment.

When gender is the only difference separating a candidate from the others, it’s seen as a more risky option, Johnson said. Adding one more woman is enough to change the norm. Going from two to three female candidates has a much smaller marginal impact.

Although there are banks led by women -- Beth Mooney at KeyCorp and Margaret Keane at Synchrony Financial -- none of the biggest U.S. banks by assets has ever had a female CEO. Maybe it won’t for a while. None of the top executives – including Dimon – is expected to leave their posts any time soon. When they do, there’s no telling whether any of the women in banking’s upper echelon will still be in the running.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE