Keynote Address at the American Banker Most Powerful Women in Banking Awards

October 03, 2019
Michael Corbat, CEO, Citi

Good evening.

I’d like to thank American Banker for inviting me to join you this evening, to celebrate the contributions and careers of the most powerful female leaders in our industry.

I was honored and proud to accept your invitation to be the first man to deliver the keynote at this event.

Because, as a tall, pale, male, Ivy League-educated, formerly All-American football-playing CEO, I can stand here tonight and honestly say that, against all odds, I made it.

Seriously, it is an honor to celebrate and congratulate 75 talented leaders on the remarkable work you are doing, and everything you have achieved in your careers.

I’d like to recognize the powerful impact you have had—and will continue to have—on the next generation of women leaders.

I’d like to congratulate the six Citi leaders who are being honored tonight.

I am also very proud to say our firm also fielded one of this year’s Top Teams.

And of course, we are delighted that our own Barbara Desoer will receive the evening’s highest accolade: The Lifetime Achievement Award.

I can’t think of anyone more deserving, given her contributions not only at Citi but also at Bank of America.
I’ve called Barbara my best outside hire ever.

To get her to join us, I promised her she only had to commit to two years. Somehow, two years stretched to six.

And, she hasn’t shaken us yet, because earlier this year, she was elected to our Board of Directors.

Barbara, thank you. You are an inspiration to me and to many others in our industry.

To the nearly seventy honorees who don’t work for Citi, I have two things to say:

First, congratulations. Second, if you’re looking to take on new challenges, feel free to give me a call….You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

From the moment I agreed to speak here tonight, I have been thinking about what it must feel like to be one of the award-winners.

And about the fact that in my 36 years in our industry, I never had to think about the people who—overtly or covertly—might doubt if I’d be right for a job on account of my gender.

As we celebrate the individual success of so many women in our industry tonight, we can’t deny the many challenges they faced and that women continue to face in 2019.

For too long, too many unexamined dynamics have determined what happens at work.

Who gets listened to at the meeting?

Who gets interrupted during the meeting?

Who gets invited to join the club, and to form the often invisible but critical networks that divide those who get marginalized from those who get ahead?

A few comments on social media give you an idea of what some think about gender in the workplace.

“I see all these young women hitting their stride professionally and then getting pregnant right at the high point. I don’t get it.”

“Why would companies ever hire men if they could just pay women less to do the same work?”

“Everyone who has ever had a female boss knows it is absolute hell. Especially the women who work for her.”

How about the lame explanations offered by some executives in a survey on why more women are not on corporate boards?

“They can’t grasp the complex issues boards like ours deal with.”

“All the good women have already been snapped up.”

“We have a woman already on our board, so it’s someone else’s turn.”

Sadly, the list doesn’t end there.

But a subtler form of discrimination, unconscious bias, also manifests itself where we work, in both large and small ways.

One night not long ago, my wife Donna—who is here with our daughter and daughter-in-law—and I went out to dinner. After we ordered and the server came back with the food, I got the burger. Donna got the salad.

The problem was: I had ordered the salad.

The server made an unconscious assumption, which in that context was harmless.

But when you take thousands, maybe millions, of unconscious assumptions made about women, which are subtly pervasive in the workplace and outside of it, they are not harmless… They are a problem.

It’s not a problem unique to our firm, industry, or society.

But because it has been so widespread for so long, leaders like us bear an even greater responsibility to stick it in the dustbin of history.

I didn’t fully grasp the gravity of these dynamics until we conducted an analysis of our unadjusted gender pay gap.

We were able to quantify that where we fall short, like many others, is with the representation of women and minorities at the senior levels of our firm.

Our analysis revealed our median pay for women globally is 71 percent of the median for men.

Once we knew the facts, we faced a decision.

If we disclosed this disappointing and, as I later called it, “ugly” number for everyone inside and outside our firm to see, what would be the reaction?

Then I thought about something a member of my management team said.

To solve these challenges, we have to face them and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

We went ahead, and became the first U.S. company to disclose our gap.

But, while transparency is great, what you do with your data is really where the rubber hits the road.

What the raw data told us, unequivocally, is that we have more work to do, and that we need to pick up the pace to get there.

We have set a goal to have 40 percent of our mid-and senior-level roles filled by females—globally—by 2021. We review our progress quarterly.

Another important lesson we learned along the way is that no one company, sector, or gender can go at this alone. We need to work together.

Leaders across and within sectors have been putting aside self and organizational interest and forging new alliances to promote gender equality, under a new mantra, “collaboration is the new competition.”

We’re going to need competition and collaboration to create fairer, equal, more diverse and inclusive cultures in our workplaces.

With that in mind, we recently invited two senior women from two of our toughest competitors, Dina Powell from Goldman Sachs and Marianne Lake from JPMorgan, to our headquarters for a discussion with our own Jane Fraser.

Very powerfully, Marianne recalled sitting in a room with a group of colleagues all discussing gender equity.

When she looked around, it suddenly struck her that everyone in that room was a woman. Jane and Dina spoke of similar experiences.

Our collective conclusion was that if our firms, and our industry, are going to make meaningful progress, we all have to do this together.

We need more men in the room—Men, we have been part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution.

Here are some simple things I think all of us men can do.

First, it doesn’t matter how enlightened you think you are. It’s still important to recognize the unintentional ways you may have allowed unconscious bias toward women to be tolerated. It can’t hurt to be open to that concept and to think about ways we can improve

Second, we have all heard reports claiming that in the era of MeToo, men are less likely to feel comfortable mentoring women. We have to be better than that.

We need to keep doing the right things in our professional life by offering sponsorship, mentorship and opportunity equally to the amazing women around you.

Third, to make the workplace more inclusive, leaders need to drive change in the middle of their organizations.

That’s where problems fester.

If we can’t challenge—and change the status quo, especially around promotion at that level, we won’t be able to meet our representation goal.

Finally, the next time someone asks you what impact this enhanced focus on women in leadership, and diversity more broadly, may mean for our meritocracy, gently but firmly remind them that our supposed meritocracy was formerly based more on who rather than what you knew.

Lastly, that brings me to another part of the solution: spreading awareness.

To that end, I am going to leave you with a sneak preview of a media campaign we are launching next Friday, on International Day of the Girl.

It’s called “The Moment” because we documented the moment where children of my Citi colleagues were told that women don’t get the same opportunities, or aren’t paid as much as men are.

Their reactions are exactly what you would hope for.

That should give us all hope for the future, and a renewed sense of responsibility to change, so their generation will not have to cope with the challenges we face today.

Thank you.

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