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This former banking CEO is on a mission to get more women into senior finance jobs

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One of these bankers is not like the others.

Richard Nesbitt spent nearly 30 years working in senior banking jobs, but he hasn’t been taking it easy since retiring from finance three years ago. Instead, he’s set himself a new goal – getting more women into leadership roles in financial services.

Financial services’ record for promoting women is poor, and gender parity has a long way to go – women still comprise just over 25% of senior roles across major banks, asset managers and insurance firms, according to recent FT analysis.

Nesbitt is the former president/CEO of HSBC Securities Canada and the ex-CEO of the TMX Group, the parent company of the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Most recently, he was the COO of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) until he retired in 2014.

Nesbitt is the president/CEO of the Global Risk Institute (GRI) and has also written a book advocating for the advancement of more women into leadership roles at financial services firms.

“When I was around 40, I had an experience while I was managing men and women at a bank and I started to notice that I had to take into account the differences in the genders to figure out how to manage them differently,” Nesbitt said. “For example, maternity leave is an important topic for women who are at that age – initially, I had some challenges understanding what was important and why I had to consider that if I wanted to hang on to highly-qualified professional women.”

Maternity leave is often cited as the key reason why women drop out of financial services careers. This is particularly the case in investment banking where the need to be on call 24/7 for clients is seen as incompatible with flexible working requirements that often come with young children.  

Nesbitt says that the case for promoting women into senior roles is not simply ticking diversity boxes, but also important for the health of the business.

“Whenever I created a group that was gender diverse, it got better results – those [gender-balanced] teams were better at doing a cost/benefit analysis and keeping to a budget, better at meeting deadlines and the overall tone and delivery of the product or project were superior,” he said. “I became an advocate and promoted gender diversity at the group level and in the organization as a whole – I sponsored more women to get into more senior positions at the bank.”

There should be no need for female bankers to pretend to like golf

Nesbitt’s book, which he co-wrote with Barbara Annis, is called Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth and argues women in the senior ranks and on the boards of companies improves financial performance. However, women currently make up less than 5% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies. For the most part, neither Wall Street nor the City has been a catalyst for change in this area.

“Men need to step up and take responsibility and play a much fuller role in gender diversity within their organizations and realize that’s a net positive for their firm,” Nesbitt said.

Men need to understand that a lack of women in their organisation mens that it’s not running as well as it could, said Nesbitt. Firms need to shift their mentality to realise this goal, he said.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, people thought if women became more like men, then they’d be successful, and there were all these books advising women to take up golf and be part of the boy’s club, which was wrong-headed,” he said.

“You have to accept the fact that women are different, and it’s bringing men and women together that creates the improved results – as soon you insert at least 30% but hopefully 50% women, they ask more questions, there’s more of a dialogue, they take more responsibility during crises and help men improve their performance as well, as men change their behavior when working with women.”

Photo credit: THEPALMER/GettyImages

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