Hurrah for RBS appointing a female CEO, but the City still has a long way to go

Alison Rose, the new CEO of Royal Bank Of Scotland
Alison Rose, the new CEO of Royal Bank Of Scotland Credit: ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND

RBS has today announced that its new CEO will be Alison Rose, formerly the deputy CEO of NatWest, who has given the bank several decades of service. Rumours have been swirling about the appointment for weeks. There has been support for her among a number of senior City figures; the bank’s former chairman told The Telegraph that she stood out during the 2008 financial crisis. 

But if her appointment was unsurprising to some, Rose is remarkable in one major way: she is the first woman ever to lead the company and is the only female CEO among the UK’s big banks.

Rose’s appointment can be welcomed as a sign of the gradual change in the male-dominated City. Some of the most positive signs are at the bottom, where there are now several programmes to target female candidates. Citigroup aims to hire a 50/50 split at entry level; Goldman Sachs says that more than half of the most junior staff are female. 

But look higher up the tree and you can see why these initiatives are happening. At HSBC, two-thirds of junior staff are female, but only 23 per cent of senior jobs are held by women. Pay gap figures show the damage this does to equality at the bank: the average woman there earns just 39p for every £1 that a man does. At Rose’s own RBS, there are currently twice as many men as women on the all-white executive management team. Again, there is an ensuing pay gap: women there earn 63p for every £1 that a man earns. The disparity in bonuses is even starker: women get 33p for every £1 given to a man.

Rose’s role is one sure sign of progress, especially as she goes out of her way to support fairness for women in business. She backed the Telegraph’s campaign Women Mean Business when it launched in March last year, where this newspaper lobbied for female entrepreneurs to get fair funding for their businesses.

This March she published the government-commissioned Alison Rose Review which was sparked by our campaign. The findings were more damning than expected: just 1 per cent of venture capital funding goes to businesses with all-female founders, whereas 89 per cent goes to all-male ones. 

Her work got the attention of policymakers, with then-Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss saying that it was “incredible” that men still have a “virtual monopoly on venture capital”.  She went on: “It’s in everyone’s interests that financing processes are open and meritocratic to grow the economy and make use of all the talent we have.” The review sparked a range of different initiatives to tackle the issue, backed by major banks.

So Rose’s appointment is a step in the right direction, but that’s not to say that the struggle is over; this is not a job done. Let’s hope that she can lead by example show other executives that change is not only possible, but also good for business.

And importantly, she will no doubt show other women that they, too, can and should aim for the top jobs. Good luck to her.