Once there was Florence Sigudu-Matambo at Metropolitan Bank Limited, Charity Jinya at Barclays Bank, Pindi Nyandoro at Stanbic Bank, Zandile Shaba at BancABC and Dr Charity Dhliwayo as one of the deputy governors at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
These women may not have been contemporaries in the strictest sense of the word but their reigns at the respective banks were close enough to each other to make them peers and for the purposes of this article, Financial Sector Spotlight considers them as such.
Perhaps that was the golden era of women leadership in local banking, promising much but yielding little by way of women advancement.
Shaba resigned from the board of BancABC on June 30 to pursue personal interests in Zambia.
Nyandoro, who had headed Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe since April 2002, left in early 2008 to take up a new post as head of the Standard Bank Group’s South-East Africa Region.
At about the same time Jinya was, after almost six years at Barclays Bank Zimbabwe Limited, leaving to become managing director of Barclays Bank Uganda.
As for Sigudu-Matambo, since she performed an amazing vanishing act, not much had been heard from or about her until her appointment to one of the newly constituted independent commissions.
Now there is Gwen Muteiwa at ReNaissance Merchant Bank Limited, Jinya is now at MBCA Bank Limited and Lyn Mukonoweshuro at Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited.
Of course, Dhliwayo is still at the Reserve Bank but there once were rumours about her departure together with Nicholas Ncube.
So, why are senior women in banking still a rare phenomenon after all these years?
Is the glass ceiling turning into some kind of iron curtain? Or is the ceiling perhaps much lower than we thought?
According to a recent UK parliamentary treasury committee report, there were only four female chief executives of FTSE (Financial Times and London Stock Exchange) 100 companies and women constituted 9% of board members of FTSE 100 banks and 2% of bank executive directors.
The gender composition of the main boards of some of the big international banks reinforces this phenomenon of gross under-representation of women at senior levels in banking – Goldman Sachs (1 woman, 10 men), HSBC (3 women, 15 men), JP Morgan (2 women, 9 men) and UBS (2 women, 9 men).
A snap survey of nine Zimbabwean banks showed that women occupy 19% of board seats and only two out of the nine banks have female heads, as illustrated in the table above.
(We excluded Mukonoweshuro because she heads KFHL, the bank holding company not the banking subsidiary itself, which is headed by Francois Molife, though it’s acknowledged that she is ultimately accountable for the bank’s performance).
We felt that expressing the bank head statistic as a percentage would be misleading because the ratio decreases dramatically as the number of banks considered increase since there are presently only two female heads of banks in Zimbabwe.
The notable thing is that Zimbabwe’s ratios are much higher than those from other parts of the so-called First World.
So what is the basis of these gender-insensitive statistics?
There may be a temptation to blame bank management for the dearth of women in the industry, but some argue that in reality the problem is a complex one, partly arising from the choices women make.
The gender gap is, therefore, a supply as well as demand problem.
A senior woman banker who gave evidence to the UK parliamentary committee said: “I think the pyramid structure means that as you go up an organisation, because of women’s choices, there are fewer to choose from.”
But why do women bankers make the choices they make?
It has been argued that while women insist that the glass ceiling is a real barrier to accessing male-dominated positions in banking, it exists mostly because women choose to focus more of their time on family and, in the end, cannot dedicate as much time to their career.
Others claim that women think that they want to focus on their career, but in reality choose family over career.
Recent research by Western Washington University revealed that women who become the chief breadwinners in their domestic partnerships are more likely to pay the price with divorce.
Could this be one of the key reasons why women tend not to climb the corporate ladder to the dizzy heights that men reach?
One banker who was interviewed by columnist Abigail Hofman of Euromoney magazine put it bluntly, “ . . .
This is a world created for men by men. It’s like the military. A lot of male bankers will pay lip service to diversity but stall when it comes to real change.
They say: I’m all for more women but in my department, we simply can’t accommodate part-time or flexible working hours.”
Shaba, the former MD of BancABC, would agree.
She once noted that it is difficult for women to work in big banking positions, although she was lucky not to have faced any such stigma.
“In a men’s world, women need to re-emphasise their point so they can be heard,” she charged.
Some experts have likened the rarity of senior women in banking to the fabled chicken—and-egg puzzle.
“Women in the ranks look up and see hardly any role models. Disheartened, they leave the industry. Bank executives badgered by the diversity lobby, search for suitable women to add to their boards and find few who have top-level experience,” said Hofman.
So, are men deeply entrenched in the upper echelons of power in banking such that women, try as they might, find it nearly impossible to break through?
Is the glass ceiling real and are women bumping their heads against it, or we are just stumbling into gender stereotypes? FSS welcomes your views on this issue.
• Omen N Muza is a banker and Managing Director of TFC Capital (Zimbabwe) (Pvt) Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity.