Five Questions With Bonnie McGeer, managing editor, American Banker Magazine

Date: June 25, 2020

Bonnie McGeer is the Managing Editor of American Banker Magazine. Previously she was the Deputy Editor of Community Banking on the American Banker daily newspaper. Her duties this year include managing the selection process for the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance awards. Amidst final preparations for this year’s ceremony on October 8, she took time with The Score to share some of what she’s learned by getting to know the nominees.

What are the top traits that you see women banking leaders share?

Intelligence, confidence and resilience.

One of the things that surprised me most in getting to know the women in our rankings better is that some of them have had significant career setbacks along the way. It hasn’t always been one success after another. There have been missteps. I think it is helpful to other women who are feeling defeated to know that these women have overcome similar challenges to get where they are.

They also have had to deal with self-doubt in doing so. Even the most successful women don’t experience confidence as a constant natural state.

It is interesting to me that some of the things these women do for fun—like learning to kite-surf (HSBC’s Katia Bouazza), performing in a “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser despite being a self-described “terrible” dancer (Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant) or singing in public (Wells Fargo’s Diane Schumaker-Krieg)—are actually personal challenges they set for themselves that ultimately build their confidence. It’s like they make a practice of becoming confident.

Citi’s Jane Fraser has a great story on becoming fearless, which you can read here.

Many banks are taking on gender diversity campaigns to help expand and maintain female employment. Which strategies are you seeing make a difference in the industry?

In banking overall, women have long outnumbered men. The trouble is with the ratio of women to men in top executive roles. I’m not seeing a big difference by that measure.

That said, I’m sure initiatives like ReEntry, which Mary Callahan Erdoes helped launch at JPMorgan Chase, make a difference in the lives of individual women and can be part of creating a larger impact in the years ahead. (The ReEntry program facilitates the return to the workplace for women who have taken an extended break from their careers to raise children.)

A lot of effort is being made on a lot of fronts to effect change. But the reality is progress remains glacial.

What trends are you seeing in the industry to help women increase work flexibility when it comes to balancing family and career?

Millennials, now the largest demographic segment in the workforce, are demanding flexibility and banks are starting to make accommodations just like other employers.

This is particularly apparent at the investment banks.

For example, Liz Myers, the head of global equity capital markets at J.P. Morgan, says multiple initiatives are underway there to combat the historical mindset of working 100-plus hour weeks as a rite of passage in investment banking.

Among these are: adding more junior resources to reduce the incidences of extreme workload, instituting mandatory “protected weekends” for junior staff, investing heavily in technology to improve work-from-home capabilities, and automating or offshoring repetitive, mundane tasks to improve the work experience.

What career strategies can help women move forward to leadership roles, specifically in a financial/banking workplace?

  • Find a sponsor.
  • Raise your hand for promotions. Don’t assume that your interest in a new position is known or that you will be considered automatically based on the quality of your work.
  • Don’t fail to raise your hand because you think you need to be 100% qualified—stretch!
  • Be willing to consider a lateral move to gain new skills and experience.
  • Some say P&L management is important.

There is a lot of good advice from female CEOs in a story we did a few years back called “Insight from Women in the C-Suite on Getting Ahead.

What has changed in the past few decades that have made higher-level roles for women in banking easier or more difficult?

Pioneers like Muriel Siebert and Beth Mooney have made it easier for everyone who comes after them.

But “easier” should not be confused with easy.