“I very much believe that more women on boards equals better performing companies, because the research proves it.”
For over 25 years Marisa Drew, CEO of the Impact Advisory and Finance Department at Credit Suisse, has been instrumental in re-writing the equation for women in banking, passionately advocating the power of the female network and championing diversity.
I chatted with Marisa about how to make bankers behave, why public targets (or quotas) in senior management are a necessity, and how the financial services industry is initiating positive change.
Marisa Drew, Credit Suisse
What are the key ways you have supported women in finance?
It’s been a journey for me for a very long time. It started 20-odd years ago with a women’s network at Merrill Lynch.
Realising the power in numbers, not just within the organization, but across the finance industry, I started the Competitors’ Diversity Forum (a pretty uninspired name in hindsight). I went to the seven largest global investment banks and asked for the names of the most senior women in their organisations.
I found seven fabulous women from the seven top investment banks to join me on the journey and (over a bottle of wine and dinner) we started the network. We all agreed that we would, within reason, share information and best practices, and use our seniority and influence to power initiatives through, which would combat the key challenges we saw women facing in our industry.
Each year we chose to focus on a particular stage in women’s careers where they tend to drop out of the industry. First there is the challenge of attracting women to the industry. Then there is the need to ensure that women are well set up and supported when they arrive: that there is equal access to the distribution of work product and women aren’t pigeon-holed by staffers into ‘female-friendly’ type roles, e.g. being the board book preparer compared to the technical modeler.
If the senior decision makers in an organisation are homogenous, it’s an easy answer for them to promote in their likeness vs recognize the benefits of diverse talent — this is just human nature.
One year we focused on the Vice President population. It is at this level of seniority, that many of our female team members start families. So, they are having to grapple with family issues and, at the same time, their jobs often change from being processors to client facing new business originators.
You have been at Credit Suisse for over 14 years, what makes you stay?
It is a great two-way contract. The firm has given me opportunities to progress and grow. It has recognized how much I put into it. And I think I’ve earned it, but I also think that ‘give back’ from the organisation keeps me absolutely happy and self-actualised and loyal.
If it became a one-way contract, that’s when you start to ask yourself if what you’re putting into it is the equivalent to what you’re getting out of it. At that point that’s when you start looking at opportunities. That’s not happened to me at Credit Suisse, it’s been a wonderful organization.
I also think culturally, the firm is very aligned with my values and principles. I’m a person who thrives in a collegial culture so if I were in an organisation where it was all about egos or one person where everyone is fighting to be recognized, rather than collaborating with each other internally – then I wouldn’t be a very engaged employee.
The finance industry doesn’t have a sparkling reputation. How do you make your bankers behave?
It is unfortunate that the finance industry has had a bad name. There have clearly been very public transgressions; we have read about them in the paper all too frequently but the headlines represent a small minority of people in the industry — the vast majority of people I have encountered in my career are exceptionally principled and are seeking to make a positive difference every day.
There have clearly been very public transgressions; we have read about them in the paper all too frequently but the headlines represent a small minority of people in the industry…
I also really believe that the industry has a valuable role to play in society and in making economies around the world function through the provision of capital and facilitating money flows and I want people on my team who believe that and understand that role. We have an obligation to deport ourselves in a way that is consistent with this role in society. It’s when people lose sight of that and become too self-interested, that things go wrong.
…you have to stand by your principles and set the standard from the top.
So, first of all, as a leader you must clearly communicate what you expect of people. Second, celebrate the people who are representative of the culture and esprit de corps that you want to create – these are the culture carriers. Third, you have to stand by your principles and set the standard from the top. Periodically, even well-intentioned clients will ask us to do something on their behalf that may enter the grey zone or not be consistent with our business principles. In these instances, we have to be prepared to walk away from business which isn’t the right kind of business for us.
Fourth, there has to be a ‘no tolerance’ policy for bad behaviour and this has to be enforced.
If you could change anything about the finance industry, what would it be?
I’d like it to move at a faster pace in terms of evolving legacy structures. While we are making big progress, many industry practices or policies are ‘old school’. For example, how information is created and disseminated has not always kept up with the times –most of the banking industry uses email as the primary method of communication.
We are dealing in confidential information all the time and we have to be very protective of this information. On the other hand, we live in a world where openly sharing information is the norm. So, simple things like grappling with whether or not we allow our people to communicate with clients via social media applications such as WeChat or WhatsApp is a debate. Right now, it’s prohibited because the systems aren’t secure enough for the standard banks need to operate under. This is something we need to figure out.
Do you think that more women on boards equals better performing companies?
Why is that?
I very much believe that more women on boards equals better performing companies, because the research proves it. There is very good research from a number of organisations, including Credit Suisse. Whatever metric you look at, be it return on equity, return on assets, share price performance, or profit margins, there is a statistically significant difference between a diverse board versus a homogenous board, over a period of time.
Why is diversity important when it comes to decision making?
I’m a big believer in the power of diversity in decision making. When solving problems in homogenous teams, ‘groupthink’ can set in and can lead to poor-quality decision making. In this case, one risks not seeing the threats or opportunities coming because there isn’t anyone to challenge the status quo or entertain a debate. This structure might serve you well for a little while, but ultimately it catches up with you because you have your blinders on and you’ll miss something coming, good or bad.
Whatever metric you look at, be it return on equity, return on assets, share price performance, or profit margins, there is a statistically significant difference between a diverse board versus a homogenous board, over a period of time.
On that basis, can I assume that you believe in quotas?
Speaking from my own point view, rather than the organisation, I believe in public targets. If you had asked me this question in my 20s I would have responded with an unequivocal ‘no’. But, during my nearly 30 years in the business I have realised that, if you don’t set public targets, nothing will change. If the senior decision makers in an organisation are homogenous, it’s an easy answer for them to promote in their likeness vs recognize the benefits of diverse talent — this is just human nature.
There is a lot of very good research suggesting that ‘the percentage of minorities in any given governance group (boards etc) needed to effect change, not as the token representative within the group, but as an influential body is 30%.’ 30% seems to be the tipping point and then the ‘minority group’ ceases to be one. At this point, diversity starts to become part of the fabric of that senior group and it organically perpetuates itself. Maybe then you can then step back from targets and let it happen naturally.
Unless you nudge towards the tipping point, things aren’t going to change. Every single one of my senior female peers in business who have been on this journey with me not just in financial services, will tell you the same thing.
Is the financial services industry moving towards implementing public targets?
In the UK there is now the Women In Finance Charter. All of the major investment banking firms have signed on, committing to set numerical targets for gender diversity in senior management by 2020. By signing on to that, people are putting their money where their mouths are.
This is a recognition that we need to have something more than ‘let’s give it a try and see how we go.’ It’s an admission that we need to drive the business towards a goal, otherwise we won’t get there.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would say that it’s very inclusive and collaborative. I’m a big believer in the power of diversity of thought as we just discussed– no man is an island and there’s no lock on good ideas. The way to get the best out of people is to recognise the differences they bring to the table and to celebrate and encourage those. I hope my team would say that I’m a leader who sets a clear strategic direction, and an incredibly supportive person.
Did you know that Marisa Drew also has a passion for fashion? You betcha. She reveals all, here.
Marisa Drew, Credit Suisse