Women have a long way to go in Asia’s bank boardrooms

Overall, Asia looks like a hard place for women bankers, especially for those in the 50-60 age group, when senior executives typically get a chance to serve on boards


A file photo of SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya. In India, female executives head up State Bank of India Ltd, ICICI Bank Ltd, Axis Bank Ltd and Standard Chartered Plc’s local unit. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
A file photo of SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya. In India, female executives head up State Bank of India Ltd, ICICI Bank Ltd, Axis Bank Ltd and Standard Chartered Plc’s local unit. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Singapore: France and South Korea are both members of the rich nations’ club that goes by the clunky name Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Measured by the participation of women in their banking and finance industries, they couldn’t be further apart.

Among the 23 Korean companies for which Bloomberg has a breakdown of board and workforce composition, Samsung Card Co. has the highest female representation in the top echelons. One of its six directors is a woman. But Samsung Card is a $4 billion company. The board of $19 billion Shinhan Financial Group Co. is a men-only institution.

Contrast that with Societe Generale SA in Paris, whose 13-member board has a female majority, to get a flavour of just how much further the gender-equality project in Korean banking must go before there’s a semblance of balance. It’s not just Korea. Even Singapore, whose finance workforce is 55% women, doesn’t have enough of them in boardrooms. Hong Kong, Japan, China and Taiwan are hardly better.

In India, female executives head up State Bank of India Ltd, ICICI Bank Ltd, Axis Bank Ltd and Standard Chartered Plc’s local unit. At LIC Housing Finance Ltd, a mortgage lender controlled by the country’s biggest state-owned life insurer, 30% of the board—including the managing director—is made up of women. But a lingering shadow of low literacy and outmoded social attitudes means that in most parts of South Asia, barring Sri Lanka, no more than one in six banking executives is a woman.

That’s different from East Asia, where female bankers’ big problem is advancement. When it comes to their representation in the broader financial-industry workforce, there’s little to separate China from Germany.

Overall, though, Asia looks like a hard place for women bankers, especially for those in the 50-60 age group, when senior executives typically get a chance to serve on boards.

Take Vietnam, the only country in the region that appears to buck the trend: At Bank for Foreign Trade, a.k.a. Vietcombank, 29% of the directors are women, compared with 10% at Singapore’s Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. So is a devastating war that kills half a generation of men the only way to break through the glass ceiling? That’s a depressing thought on International Women’s Day. Bloomberg

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