Report on Women in the Retail Banking Industry

By Kimberly Killen

Working women in the US generate $4.3 trillion of earned income. The eight million women-owned businesses generate $3 trillion. There’s $11 trillion investable assets. Many of those dollars pass in and out of banks.

Sure, the big retail banks issue credit cards, but do they serve the interests of women? Would customers be happy to know what happens beyond the teller’s counter?

The institutions included in this analysis were chosen based on their rankings on the 2013 Fortune 500. In researching the data for Buy Up Index, we evaluated the top financial institutions on how they serve women as employees, as emerging leaders, and as consumers, and then identified where they have room to improve.


Overall, the retail banking industry does well by women compared to other sectors we’ve researched. Four banks on our list merit an A grade.


In recent years, the banking industry has certainly opened its doors. Bank of America, for instance, boasts a workforce that is more than 60 percent women, and it’s rare to find a boardroom composed entirely of men.

So how are female employees at retail banks currently faring? Some are doing well, and others are not. All the banks we researched had women on their board. Three banks made the 30 percent club: Bank of America, PNC, and Wells Fargo.

While many women make it into the management ranks, the numbers of those who climb higher is much smaller. There isn’t one female CEO of a major bank on this list, only smaller banks like Key Corp. Only 28 percent of these banks had women among the five highest paid executives (as reported by the SEC). JP Morgan Chase outdid the others, with 40 percent of its top execs being female. Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and PNC have over 50 percent managers.

Some financial institutions are even investing in supporting and retaining a new generation of women through leadership initiatives. JP Morgan Chase launched Winning Women to recruit students and its Women on the Move program has connected 6,000 employees to senior women at the bank. B of A’s network LEAD has 30,000 members, and Citigroup developed Women Leading Citi and Women’s Leadership Development; the former has sent 500 to a program at UCLA. These programs demonstrate a commitment to mentoring women and helping them attain the highest positions within these respective institutions at a rate on par with their male counterparts. BNY Mellon has involved 5,500 women in over 50 chapters in its Women’s Initiative Network. Citi and BNY Mellon actually track the percentage of women in these programs who climb the ladder.

Looking at these numbers begs the question: why are the strides made by women into middle management positions not matched in executive offices? Could it be that inadequate paid maternity and paternity leave policies are continuing to force women to choose between home and the office? Does going on maternity leave result in missed opportunities for advancement? Does the glass ceiling only exist on the executive floors? Are efforts to empower female employees no more than another form of pink-washing?


How women employees experience life at the bank varies greatly when it comes to family issues. Four of these banks offer maternity leave over 12 weeks – far from the tech sector’s record-breaking 22 weeks or unlimited.

Only four of the banks change the face-time model. At PNC, 50 percent of employees telework, compress week, or job-share. Bank of America goes further by registering My Work®, its formal plan allowing people to work from a variety of corporate locations or wherever they are most productive. Instead of making employees ask, B of A formalized the concept of Select Time to reduce an employee's schedule and responsibilities for a specific period.

Some go out of their way for parents: PNC offers onsite childcare at two of its offices. Wells Fargo offers backup childcare.

JP Morgan Chase created an innovative re-entry program to help women those who left the work force ramp back into banking.


Beyond employees, we wanted to ask how the banks are serving their women customers. A few are reaching out for the wallets of women by trying to increase women’s financial well-being. PNC trains bankers in the needs of women business owners – a smart move considering there are eight million of them. Wells Fargo has made a goal of lending $55 billion to women-owned businesses; the tally is $43 billion so far.

When it comes to communicating to their customers, banks are also doing a pretty good job showing today's new reality. Many scored a PASS for their marketing efforts--meaning that they subverted gender stereotypes. That seems logical, as banks are persuading people to trust them with their money, it's best to show these earners as capable human beings. Indeed, many bank advertisements feature women business owners, after all nearly 10 million women do own their own companies. Bank of America stands out for ads that show a girl hockey players or middle-aged African-American women in rock bands.

What do banks do with their money? All these banks pull profits in by the billions, and most make charitable and philanthropic contributions. Giving USA recommends that companies direct 1 percent of pre-tax profits to philanthropy, and while most of the banks donate, there isn’t a lot of money going toward specifically women’s causes. The exception: Bank of America stands out for the $10 million it has directed to Elizabeth Street Capital, along with the Tory Burch Foundation and its impressive document to help evaluate philanthropy for women and girls. B of A put another $10 million toward the work of the Calvert Foundation.