European banks still relegate women to the background

According to a study by the Reuters news agency, published to mark International Women's Rights Day, Europe's major banks still have a long way to go to achieve parity and gender equality at the highest levels.

A masculine work culture in the banking sector

As Reuters reminds us in the introduction to its study "At the top of Europe's banks, it's still a man's world", Europe's 25 biggest banks in terms of assets have seen 22 changes of Chairman and CEO in the last two years.

Of these 22 positions, only one has been awarded to a woman, Alison Rose, at the head of British bank NatWest, while the boards of two other European banks, Dutch bank Rabobank and Spanish bank Santander, are chaired by a woman.

To carry out this study, the Reuters news agency interviewed numerous specialists, including academics, investors, board members and senior executives.

In their view, one of the main obstacles to parity in positions of responsibility is the work culture, which has been shaped by and designed for men. This masculine work culture is reflected, for example, in the valorization of employees who stay late at the office, which is often impossible for women, who are forced to go home to look after the children because of the lack of equal distribution of tasks.

European banks: the usefulness of quotas and the need for a change in mentality

The Reuters study also reveals that women are more numerous in extended management teams, with between 10 and 20 senior executives supervised by the bank's CEO. Women account for 25% of the workforce in these European teams, less than in the 8 largest US banks, where the proportion is 30%.

In European banks, the management position with the most women is human resources. The problem is that human resources management is rarely a stepping stone to the position of CEO, as the level of operational experience is not the same.

If women are more present on boards of directors, it's above all thanks to the existence of legal texts that impose quotas. In France, for example, the Copé-Zimmermann law, passed on January 20, 2011, requires a minimum proportion of 40% women on boards of directors and supervisory boards, which has enabled French companies to overtake Germany, the UK and Sweden.

French companies now have 45.6% women on their boards, compared with an average of 37% in the rest of Europe and the USA.

In mid-December, French parliamentarians passed a new law requiring companies to have a 30% quota of women in their senior management by 2027, rising to 40% by 2030.

Interviewed by Reuters, Andrea Orcel, CEO of Italian banking group UniCredit, acknowledges that European banks need to evolve. In his view, this will not involve setting quotas, but " a fundamental change of culture " within companies.

Of the 25 banks surveyed by Reuters, UniCredit has made the most progress in terms of gender equality. Whereas only 4% of the Italian group's senior management were women in 2019, they are now approaching parity, with 40% women. According to UniCredit board member Elena Carletti, this is a sign that the will to change is strong and fast-acting.