‘I can be more vulnerable:’ Citi President Jane Fraser on female leaders’ pandemic-era advantage

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert talks the future of live sports, Brené Brown is our collective therapist, and Citi’s Jane Fraser reflects on leading in a pandemic. Have a terrific Tuesday. 

– Vulnerability as an advantage. For the latest installment of Fortune‘s interview series about female leadership amid the coronavirus crisis, I talked to Jane Fraser, president of Citi and CEO of its global consumer banking division. Fraser shared what data she’s monitoring (community spread, public infrastructure) and what Citi’s pandemic-era offices will look like (one-way walking routes and lots of plexiglass).

Of course, the pandemic is reshaping more than companies’ physical workspace. Fraser said the crisis is an opportunity to  “smash some of the myths of how you’ve done stuff in the past,” especially as it relates to talent. She explained, for instance, why Citi offered full-time jobs to most of its summer interns before their (abbreviated, all-virtual) programs began. It took “the stress out of the system,” she said. “This way they’ll make the most of the experience…rather than stressing about, ‘How am I able to show myself when I’m not sitting there with my manager?’”

I was especially interested, however, in Fraser’s frank reflection on her own leadership:

People do look for leadership at a time like this. Being a woman has real power and strength to it. I can be much more vulnerable in certain areas; talking more about the human dimensions of this than some of my male colleagues feel comfortable [with], and I don’t feel that’s in any way soft or weaker. I actually think it’s much more powerful. I find that I’ve been able to have a conversation with our people, across the bank, that I wouldn’t have been able to have in that same way had we not had a crisis. You can build a different relationship with the people in the organization than you’ve been able to before.

The comment is reminiscent of analysis of how female heads of government have responded to the crisis. Leaders like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel have not masked the crisis as a physical war against an invisible enemy, as this NPR story points out, but have instead characterized it as a shared problem that calls for shared responsibility—with stellar results.

You can read Fraser’s full interview here—including her tips for drawing a line between the office and home.

Claire Zillman
[email protected]

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