Fraser Says Idea That Women Don’t Help Women Is ‘Utter Rubbish’

There’s a theory in corporate America that women in positions of power don’t help other women. Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser doesn’t buy it.

“Utter rubbish,” Fraser said during a panel discussion with General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra for the Economic Club of New York. “From my own experience, I have to say I’ve had wonderful male mentors, but the support of different female mentors, friends, colleagues, female CEOs has been extraordinary.”

Fraser rose to the top of Citigroup earlier this month, becoming the first female CEO of a major U.S. bank. Since her appointment was announced in September, other CEOs -- including Barra -- have reached out to offer their support and guidance, Fraser said.

Studies show why that’s important: Women who had large social networks and an inner circle of one to three close female friends often landed jobs that came with 2.5 times more authority and pay than female peers who didn’t have that support, according to researchers at Harvard University.

Barra said she’s urged women looking to rise through the ranks of their companies to speak up more. She said she often thinks back to when her children were young and she had to be on the road home by 5:30 p.m. to relieve her nanny.

“I struggled with being able to say, ‘I’m sorry, I have to leave,’” Barra said, even though she had no problem saying, “Sorry, I have to go -- I have another work commitment” if a midafternoon meeting ran long. “People are going to know you have a family. There’s rarely a person that doesn’t expect you to do the right thing for your family, in my opinion.”

Though she’s only a couple weeks into her new role, Fraser said she’s been busy evaluating what her company will look like as the Covid-19 crisis eases -- including when to bring staffers back to the office, and which ones should have the option to keep working from home. In a post-pandemic world, the proper workplace may vary by employee, she said.

“Where is it you need apprenticeship? Where is it you need people together for collaboration? Where is it you need people together for productivity and competitiveness?” Fraser said. But, she added, “Where don’t we need to worry about that. And where is it that we can give people a lot more flexibility?”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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