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An Interview With the CEO of Credit Suisse

The Banking world is perceived to be a man’s world. There are not many women on Wall Street and those who are there do not last as long as their male counterparts.

We’ve heard of cases where banks were accused of discriminating against women, not promoting them on time, paying them less than the men at the same position in the firm. The CEO of Credit Suisse, Brady Dougan was on campus last week and spoke about the myths and truths about issues women face on Wall Street.

We thank Prof Sandra Sucher who moderated the discussion and brought up hard questions at the talk, questions that have kicked off discussions and debates in the school community. Mr. Dougan was very candid in his replies and spoke about the steps taken by banks in general and CS in particular to create a more diverse work space.

On being asked if the climate at Wall Street was hospitable for women, Mr. Dougan mentioned that Credit Suisse has a very strong view of the importance of diversity and that both the industry and Credit Suisse need more women. Diversity, broadly defined, he saidÿpromotes better decision making. His view was that the industry has not done a great job of attracting women and that financial firms and the financial crises may have been better managed if the leadership in the industry was more diverse and had more women.

Was CS as vulnerable as Goldman Sachs which recently faced charges that it was not treating women employees at par with their male counterparts? Mr. Dougan did not comment specifically on the Goldman case. He mentioned that CS believes in meritocracy and that they strive to develop all their people. However, he acknowledged that some of these issues are more endemic to the society and the industry and CS may suffer from spillover effects. While all employees enjoy equal status at the firm, the firm is challenged, as is the industry, in attracting and retaining talented women. “We have to do more,” he said.

Mr. Dougan agreed that senior leadership plays a very important role in promoting diversity and equality in the workplace. He mentioned that Pamela Thomas-Graham, who is the Chief Talent, Branding, and Communications Officer at CS, and is a member of the Executive Board which runs the bank, has used research data to help define and implement new steps to make the work place more favorable for women. He acknowledged that organizations have a trickledown effect and that serious steps to promote diversity flow from top to the bottom in organizations. But these changes have to be sustainable and should remain in place even after the person responsible for the changes leaves the organization. CS, he mentioned, aspires to be one of the best managed firms, and attracting and developing a diverse team of professionals across the organization is integral to that goal.

Prof. Sucher made the session very interactive and concerns were raised by the students about the work life balance at Wall Street and lack of leadership skills. While Mr. Dougan did not deny that the banking world requires significant investment of some long hours, he did mention that Wall Street should invest in developing better people managers. The dynamics of the banking world is such that individuals strive to be effective producers but people management has not been the path of choice for many in their careers, “which means that people with real management capability and desire should have an advantage.”

Towards the end of the session, Prof. Sucher solicited suggestions from students on how Credit Suisse and other leading financial institutions may be able to address the concerns of women on Wall Street. One student raised the possibility of reducing the opacity in the annual performance review process. Mr. Dougan responded that he recognized the tremendous value of thoughtful feedback and dialogue, and that his executive team is very focused on restructuring the firm’s performance review process. Efforts to fulfill this objective include the introduction of more objective standards and constructive feedback for all employees, including aspiring female professionals, within Credit Suisse’s annual performance review process.

Another student raised a probing question regarding how Credit Suisse welcomes females who exited the labor force because of personal life choices, including maternity. Mr. Dougan emphasized that Credit Suisse strongly encourages previous female employees to return to the firm even after a significant period of absence. For Mr. Dougan, Credit Suisse deeply values the experience, expertise and talent of each of its employees. Flexibility in accommodating life choices is at the core of the firm’s human capital development program.

Should the organizational structure in Wall Street be flatter? Mr. Dougan highlighted that a delicate balance ought to be maintained between autonomy and control. Young professionals within the firm, male and female, need to be encouraged to embrace more opportunities in the organization. However, sufficient mentoring and guidance from senior managers remain indispensable in helping these junior bankers optimize their contribution to the firm.

Mr. Dougan raised a tough challenge from the crowd: teach your senior managers to treat analysts and associates better. According to Mr. Dougan, one “can lead from any seat.” Every banker in Wall Street should feel empowered to shape the culture of the organization regardless of rank or seniority. For Mr. Dougan, junior professionals at any bank should proactively engage with their teams in order to leverage the value of diversity in stimulating insightful decision-making.

Overall, Mr. Dougan highlighted three critical aspects for women’s success in the investment banking industry: embracing constructive feedback, leveraging mentoring opportunities, and demonstrating proactive leadership. Navigating Wall Street may be intimidating for some women, but overcoming this barrier may be less grueling in some institutions where creating attractive, open work environments is transforming into a key source of competitive advantage.

October 25, 2010
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