In the last five years the number of women in senior level management positions at large commercial banks increased slightly, but there’s still a long way to go.

According to the Women at the Top Study released Wednesday, women hold 91 out of 523, or 17.4%, of positions at the top 50 banks in the nation, and only eight women hold C-level positions (three are chief operating officers, four are chief financial officers and one is a chief administrative officer). This is an improvement from the 2005 study that found women held just 12.6% of executive level positions, a gain of 4.8% in the last five years. The top 50 banks are those with total assets of over $1 billion. The banks in the study ranged in size from $12.2 billion to $1.7 trillion in assets.

“That’s good news, particularly considering the challenges financial services companies have faced in the last two years,” said Regina Barr, president of Red Ladder, Inc. and founder of the WATT Network in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. “Often when we see industry consolidation through bank closures or merger and acquisition activity, we also see some fallout for women in executive-level bank positions in the study. That’s not the case this time.”

Barr remains optimistic that more women will move into the executive suite: “Women who have the right skills, and who make their interests in attaining senior level positions known, will be in demand. This, combined with the fact that companies with more senior level women boast higher financial returns, all bode well for women in financial services.”

Yet the statistics speak for themselves – the 2010 study found that there were no women CEOs in any of the 50 largest commercial banks in 2010 compared with one female CEO in 2005.  Barr’s response: “There’s still work to be done.”

A survey earlier this year by the Financial Women's Association (FWA) revealed that in 2009 the presence of women at the highest levels of major corporations (not only financial institutions) in New York remained flat, while the number of women in board and executive positions either increased slightly or decreased when compared to the 2008 study. The FWA study examined a cross-section of the largest public companies (ranked by revenue) in the metropolitan New York area, looking at proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as other SEC filings, articles, and company websites.

Not only are the number of women in C-suite positions not increasing, they are actually declining. The FWA survey showed the number of women executives decreased to 9.8% in 2009, down from 10.3% in 2008, while the number of companies with zero women included among their most highly compensated executives increased more than 12% from 58 to 65.
The number of companies that have no women executives at all listed in their filings increased nearly 27%, to 33 from 26.

Meanwhile, the percentage of board seats held by women in large public companies increased slightly to 17.8% in 2009, up from17.6% in 2008, an addition of just one seat. The number of companies in the sample with no women on their boards actually increased by 22%, to 33 in 2009, up from 26.

“The data is very disappointing, given that women represent consumers and expertise in almost every industry,” said Ziporah Janowski, co-chair, FWA Directorships & Corporate Governance Committee, in a statement. “Companies who don’t incorporate their voice may be doing so at their financial peril. In the wake of this recession, it’s more important than ever for companies to realize that having a diverse board and corporate leadership improves a company’s economic performance.”