Morgan Stanley CFO calls too few women leading U.S. companies an 'embarrassment'

'Women are still not reaching the most senior levels of corporations,' said Ruth Porat, one of Wall Street's highest-ranking women

Apr 3, 2014 @ 9:28 am (Updated 9:58 am) EST

Ruth Porat
Ruth Porat (Bloomberg News)

Morgan Stanley chief financial officer Ruth Porat called the low number of women running U.S. companies an “embarrassment” that shows the need for new laws.

“Women are still not reaching the most senior levels of corporations,” Ms. Porat, one of Wall Street's highest-ranking women, said Wednesday at the Japan Society in New York. “This is not the shortcoming of women. We're talented and smart.”

Four decades after substantial numbers of women began entering management ranks, they tend to start at lower salaries than men and rarely reach the top posts that pay most. Lawmakers should consider structural changes, such as requiring companies to provide family leave, so that women aren't forced to choose between successful careers and having children, said Ms. Porat, 56.

Women accounted for only 8% of the five best-paid executives at each of the S&P 500 companies in 2012. They earned $5.3 million on average, or 18 percent less than men, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“They are an embarrassment,” Ms. Porat said of corporate America's statistics.

Ms. Porat joined Morgan Stanley in 1987. After climbing the ranks, she was shown internal documents from when she started. Reviewers had predicted she lacked stamina to get past the associate level, a junior rung.

“I'm quite confident I outlasted the men who questioned my stamina,” she told the audience Wednesday.

TREASURY POST

Ms. Porat was said to have been considered as a potential deputy Treasury secretary by President Barack Obama last year. She told the White House she wasn't interested. Her decision was influenced by improving conditions at Morgan Stanley and the acrimony of the confirmation process, two people familiar with the matter said last year. She has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and graduate degrees from the London School of Economics and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The biggest Wall Street banks have always been led by men. The industry only began letting women onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as clerks when it needed to fill wartime shortages. With so few women now in senior positions, those who climb the ladder are turned to as spokeswomen for their gender.

Some of Wall Street's most prominent women lost their jobs during the financial-market collapse. Sallie Krawcheck, once viewed as a candidate to lead Citigroup Inc., said in February on Bloomberg Television that women on Wall Street have “gone backwards” as the men in charge tend to enlist people similar to them when facing a crisis.

Ms. Porat's remarks came hours after news broke that one of Wall Street's most prominent women, Blythe Masters, plans to end a 27-year career at JPMorgan Chase & Co. The investment bank is selling commodities units that she oversees.

Ms. Masters, 45, plans to “take some well-deserved time off and consider future opportunities,” JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, 58, and investment-banking head Daniel Pinto, 51, wrote in a memo to staff.

(Bloomberg News)