Disappering Bank Teller Jobs Threaten Women's Advancement

For generations, women have entered the finance industry by becoming bank tellers. Now that path is disappearing.

The number of tellers -- a job in which four out of five positions are held by women -- has dropped more than 20% in the U.S. and Canada in the past decade as transactions move from branches to mobile phones. The figure, already projected before the pandemic to fall further over the next 10 years, may decline even faster after COVID-19 lockdowns accelerated the adoption of digital banking.

Technological advances are eliminating the need for bank tellers, threatening an entry point for women into the male-dominated industry which has sought to promote more females to leadership roles. While the climb remains steep, some financial companies have managed to improve the gender balance in their executive ranks.

Women hold 51% of entry-level positions and 38 per cent of senior-management jobs in the banking and consumer-finance industry in the U.S., according to a report last year from McKinsey & Co. Both figures are higher than the average across industries, according to the study. The picture is similar in Canada, with women constituting about 57% of the workforce at the country’s six largest banks and holding 38% of senior-management positions, according to 2019 data from the Canadian Bankers Association.

The figures are far less encouraging at the highest levels. Only one of the 18 banks in the S&P 500 Index has a female chief executive officer. In Canada, just one of the country’s eight largest publicly traded banks has a woman at the helm.

On a cheerier note, women are making advances of late, with Jane Fraser being named head of Citigroup Inc. in September, and Rania Llewellyn taking the top job at Laurentian Bank of Canada a month later, making her the first female CEO of a publicly traded Canadian bank.

The teller position has been the springboard for some of the highest-ranking women in North American banking. Llewellyn of Laurentian Bank, Bank of the West Chief Executive Officer Nandita Bakhshi, Toronto-Dominion Canadian personal-banking head Teri Currie and Duke all started as tellers.