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Women in finance: More work to be done

The results are in and the signs are good. Asia’s banking industry appears to be making some progress on gender balance in the workforce.

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Close to 60 Asian and international banks took part in Asiamoney’s first Women in Finance survey, providing data about their regional staff numbers. Women account for just over 50% of the payroll, on average. Clearly mindsets are changing, and financial institutions are placing more emphasis on diversity and making conscious efforts to improve the gender balance.

But more work needs to be done. Asiamoney’s survey shows that, on average, women only hold about a quarter of the senior management positions at banks in Asia. Female bankers still face unequal pay and unconscious bias.

For this report, Asiamoney’s journalists spoke to more than 40 female bankers across the region and across various asset classes, and found some interesting dynamics.

There are plenty of bright spots. Women lead the way when it comes to working in areas of finance related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns – areas that rose in popularity only a few years ago but which have now become much more important as countries around the world explore ways to combat the disastrous impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Is change coming? Most women interviewed for this report think so

Private banking is a hotspot for women, but mainly in relatively junior positions, while gruelling hours and a sexist culture in investment banking have made it harder for women to climb to the top.

Philippine banks lead the way in diversity, partly because of the country’s matriarchal culture, but women are conspicuous by their absence at chief executive level among the nation’s lenders. Banks in Taiwan and in Hong Kong are doing quite well when it comes to equality for women; those in China have much more room for progress.

Is change coming? Most women interviewed for this report think so. Change will be driven in part by the global pandemic that has forced banks to adapt and become more flexible with their work-from-home policies.

However, the pace of change is still too slow. Several senior bankers interviewed by Asiamoney said they didn’t see scope for dramatic progress in their own lifetimes.

There is no easy fix to improving gender diversity at banks. But Asiamoney hopes that by focusing on ‘Leaders for Women’ in banking, we can encourage debate on the importance of having a more diverse workforce – and the enormous benefits that brings.

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