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Keynote at the Women’s Bond Club—Centennial Celebration Virtual Gala

September 22, 2021
Jane Fraser, Chief Executive Officer, Citi

Note: Jane began her keynote by showing Citi’s The Moment video, which featured the children of Citi colleagues and their reactions to learning about the gender pay gap for the first time.

Those faces, well, they say it all…don’t they?

It’s a reminder that it takes a child’s bewilderment to demonstrate how absurd it is that a woman’s work would not be valued as much as a man’s.

When I first started my career back in the ‘80s in London, there were very few women working in financial services.

A concept such as pay equity was simply not on anyone’s minds.

We’ve made progress thanks to a century of tireless dedication from incredible organizations such as the Women’s Bond Club—and the female leaders and male mentors who have paved the way for us all.

Leaders such as Adena Friedman, Lori Beer and Christina Lowery, and the rising stars being recognized today, including my Citi colleagues Maria Dellipizzi, Ali Fox and Deenie Schlass

They are all setting an example for the determined young girls who want to work and lead in our industry—that yes, they can.

Often times, I’m asked the question, what career advice do I have?

I really wish there was a formal guide to hand over, but there are three principles I can share that have served me well in my career.

First, it is mission critical that you build your network. In particular, your mentors.

The men and women who will provide access to opportunities for you, who will take a chance on you and who will give you the feedback you need to get to the next level of performance.

And it’s important that we officially bust that myth that women do not support other women.

The support I have had from female colleagues has been a bedrock throughout my career.

Never was this more apparent than when I was fortunate to be named as CEO of Citi and had so many women from across the world, the industry, clients and governments wishing me well.

There are so many talented women who have blazed a trail before us, and I’ve drawn remarkable strength from colleagues, peers and friends through the good and the tough times.

And many of those are women from competing firms, and we are there for each other.

The second piece of advice is, when you think about your career, don't imagine it is going to be a linear path.

My career certainly hasn’t been. I started in M&A at Goldman in London. I moved to Spain for a local brokerage firm, then into consulting at McKinsey in the U.S., and then transitioned back into banking a decade later, which is what led me to Citi.

I’ve held many roles in my 17 years at Citi, working across businesses and regions and that really allowed me to learn new skills and experience different parts of the bank.

And none of it followed a perfect path.

Let me make this concrete. I left my role as CEO of Citi’s Global Private Bank for a lateral move to lead our U.S. mortgage business at the end of the last crisis.

To most of my colleagues, it looked like an odd decision to make at the time.

But I knew it was going to give me the opportunity to learn an entirely new set of skills—experience with different risk classes, running a business far away from major financial centers, exposure to the Board, Washington and regulators, a major restructuring.

To this day, this is the role that had the most influence on how I approach connecting with colleagues.

If I’d worried too much about climbing the ladder, I never would have made the move.

Equally, there were many times when I was hesitant to make a move.

I am always out of my comfort zone if I do not feel fully prepared. And it’s rare you’re ever going to be fully prepared, so raising your hand assuredly or taking that leap needs to be part of that imperfect path forward.

The third principle is that you’re going to have several careers within your lifetime, and that journey is going to be decades long. So just chill on the timing.

This was something a mentor once told me that helped take the pressure off a bit when I wanted to start a family, which happened to be at the same time I was in the running to make partner at McKinsey.

While I believe that women can have it all, it didn’t feel like I could have it all at the same time.

I decided to work part time through the entirety of my partnership at McKinsey so I could raise my young kids.

And I will admit, it was tough for my own ego to see people who were more junior than me become more senior, but I learned so much from that shift.

It humanized me. There is nothing like having children to bring you firmly back down to earth, and my clients noticed it, the change in my work style. They said it was for the better.

I was far more empathetic and not just some analytic machine. I think the big takeaway of this principle is make the most of each phase of your life and enjoy that phase because there’s going to many of them in your life and career.

Now talking of this more empathic approach, I’d like to turn to that today.

I believe the pandemic has shone a bright light on the need to lead with empathy.

That excellence in the business arena can be enhanced by an empathetic approach.

And that it is time to move out of some of the anachronistic attitudes of the ‘80s in financial services and lead with a new style and tone that is in tune with the times.

I believe that as a result, this pandemic may actually be able to open up new opportunities for women to lead, and I encourage you to take advantage of them.

At Citi, we believe empathy is an important part of serving our clients and listening and understanding their needs. Of building relationships with them at a time when we have all felt mental stress. Of adapting to the needs of our people recognizing their challenges beyond the workplace and innovating to find win-win ways of addressing them.

Of giving a sense of purpose for the work in the financial system assisting communities and driving societal and economic progress. And I truly believe, as women, we are at an advantage here, because in my personal opinion, many women are the natural champions of empathy.

Speaking personally, I’ve found I can be much more vulnerable and talk more about the human dimensions of a situation than some of my male peers feel comfortable with.

I don’t think in any way that’s softer or weaker, I think it’s much more powerful.

I believe empathy has been overlooked in business for so long simply because it has been misunderstood.

It’s not about being nice. It’s about insight. It’s about understanding the perspectives of your clients and colleagues and using that to design the best solutions.

Empathy can drive excellence and it can drive competitive edge.

As I look forward, I really am very optimistic. But I also recognize we still need real systemic change in order to achieve gender equality.

We need companies, nonprofits, governments, bosses and mentors—we all need to play a role, and we certainly need men to be our partners and champions in this effort.

At Citi, we are holding ourselves accountable so we can drive progress within our bank.

Back in 2018, we were the first major U.S. financial institution to publicly release the results of our pay equity analysis.

Since then, we’ve continued to be transparent, and we’ve set a goal to increase representation of women in our senior ranks globally to 40% by the end of this year.

We’re also championing women in our economy, whether it’s the 3 million female entrepreneurs we have supported in emerging markets with micro financing, or leading the $2.5 billion IPO for Bumble, whose CEO, the wonderful Whitney Wolfe Herd, became the youngest woman to take a company public.

And we know we’re not the only company doing this. It’s truly going to take a village.

So, let’s continue to drive progress forward and to hold each other accountable.

Because at the end of the day, we are all in this together.

Thank you so much.

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