September 19, 2020 / VOLUME NO. 123
American Chauvinism

Citigroup announced recently that Jane Fraser, currently head of its global consumer bank, will succeed CEO Michael Corbat in February 2021.

Fraser will become the first woman to lead a major U.S. bank.

Why has it taken so long for this to happen, and why is she the only one?

There are two jobs that women are still routinely excluded from in this country. One is the CEO of a major corporation. There were just 37 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as of May, according to Fortune. This is a record for U.S. corporations, but that’s still just 7% of these companies.

The other top job that a woman has never held is the presidency of the United States. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first woman to win the nomination of either major party. Clinton was a polarizing candidate — and her gender no doubt contributed to that — but I want to steer away from politics. This shouldn’t be a political issue.

Golda Meir served as prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, successfully leading the country through the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, among many challenges.

Margaret Thatcher — who a Soviet journalist once called “The Iron Lady” — led Great Britain from 1979 to 1990 and stood resolutely beside President Ronald Reagan during the final years of the Cold War.

Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany since 2005, and has managed one financial crisis, an immigration crisis and the coronavirus pandemic during her tenure.

It is simple chauvinism to suggest that women can’t be strong leaders or can’t handle pressure. This seems to be a viewpoint embedded in the American psyche. Other countries, other cultures, don’t seem to have the same gender leadership issue. We still do.

How would Jane Fraser manage Citi through a major financial crisis? We won’t know until when and if that happens, but her gender won’t be a defining factor any more than it was for Tammie Jo Shults.

Shults was the captain of Southwest Airlines flight 1380 on April 17, 2018, when its right engine exploded at 32,000 feet while the first officer was flying the plane, nearly causing a catastrophe. The cabin suddenly depressurized, killing a passenger who was partially sucked out of a window. The plane went into a potentially fatal descent; damage to the right wing, along with other structural problems, made the plane very difficult to fly.

Shults took control of the disabled aircraft and managed the crisis in-flight while she coolly made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport.

Shults, now retired, is a former Navy pilot and one of the first women to fly the F/A-18A Hornet.

I spent a lot of time in the air prior to the pandemic. If I ever have an experience like that as a passenger, I’d be willing to put my life in Tammie Jo Shult’s hands.

Jack Milligan, editor at large for Bank Director
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