Comment Editor Freya Wainstein discusses the recent news that Jane Fraser is to become the first CEO of a Wall Street Bank, arguing that whilst this news is positive, we need to keep in mind how far we still have to go in the fight for gender equality

Written by Freya Wainstein
Published
Images by Jakembradford

On 10 September, it was announced that Jane Fraser would take the position of Citigroup’s Chief Executive, becoming the first female CEO of a Wall Street Bank. My first reaction to this was, unsurprisingly, a feeling of relief at some good news, something which at the moment is few and far between. Yet, on further reflection, I questioned my unabashed cheerfulness. It suddenly struck me as strange that we seem to be encouraged to celebrate there being only one female CEO of a Wall Street Bank, and that it took until late 2020 for one to be appointed. 

Whilst this is a milestone, perhaps it is one that we should refrain from celebrating, and instead view as a small change that is just a bit too little, too late. This is especially the case since according to the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report published in December 2018, the gender gap will take 108 years to close. Therefore, this news merely drives home how far we still have to go, and how painfully slowly times are changing. When news such as this is framed as purely positive, which it often seems to be, perhaps we are being encouraged to amend our hope for full equality. It seems problematic that such an overdue change is something we are still being asked to celebrate when women have been fighting for equality for so long. Yes, a woman has taken on a position that has traditionally been a role that only a man can take on, and yes, she now has power over one of the biggest banks in America. Yet equally, there is now just one woman in this position as opposed to zero. Is this something worth labelling a win? 

This news merely drives home how far we still have to go, and how painfully slowly times are changing

Despite my cynical doubts, I would say yes. The lack of representation of women in CEO positions is still dire, there are nearly as many CEOs called John as there are female CEOs, and it is disheartening that it has taken until 2020 for a Wall Street Bank to have a female in charge. Yet, it is also great news. It is a historical win for women everywhere, as Fraser crashes through the glass ceiling. Wall Street has, as the New York Times puts it, a ‘longstanding reputation as a boys club.’ Thus, it would indeed be amiss to put a damper on Fraser’s huge achievement. 

Whilst in an ideal, egalitarian world, having one female CEO of a Wall Street Bank is shameful and disappointing, in the world we, unfortunately, live in, it is a big step and signifies another woman who has taken a powerful position that has previously been reserved for men. It also opens the door for more women to take positions like this, beginning a chain of events that will hopefully see Wall Street no longer dominated by men. Indeed, the New York Times ran an article based on the news about Fraser, entitled ‘Who’s the Next Woman to Take Over on Wall Street?’, where they considered other female executives on Wall Street who might take over their companies. Whether or not it is happening quickly enough, Jane Fraser’s news does indicate that times are changing. 

Whether or not it is happening quickly enough, Jane Fraser’s news does indicate that times are changing

For these reasons, I cannot refuse to be happy about this news, just because in an alternate, and better world, I would not be. I believe that whilst we should not unreservedly cheer or assume that this signifies the end of the need for fighting for feminism, it is important to celebrate wins like this. Perhaps primarily because if we do not, we have nothing to celebrate. However, in doing so, we must keep in mind how depressingly slow times are changing, and how far we still have to go in the journey to reaching equality. So, in the words of Heidi Miller, a former top executive at JPMorgan Chase, ‘it’s about time,’ let us all applaud as another glass ceiling comes tumbling down.

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