THE CHINA COLUMN: Chinese women seek stability in the banking sector
An interesting fact for you: women make up the majority of bank employees in China.
China’s official Xinhua news agency reported five years ago that women in China account for 65 per cent of all staff across the sector, and 49 per cent of mid-level managers in commercial banking, but only 15.2 per cent of senior bankers.
Today these numbers continue to rise, especially at the junior end, but there are still some practical barriers to women scaling the heights of the financial sector.
Let’s look behind the figures and hear from a few female bankers in China about the increasingly important role played by women in the industry.
Celine, a former branch manager, Bank of China, Shanghai, comments: “We will definitely see more female managers at banks in the future. Banking is a customer-oriented service industry. Females are absolutely perfect for the jobs. In addition, more and more women nowadays have a higher education and wider exposure – they are very clear of what they want to achieve in their career.”
“I see a lot of female managers in the banking industry, even the head of IT in our bank is a ‘she’. Many positions at banks require a detail-orientated quality, that’s our strength,” says F, from a leading Singaporean bank in China.
A steady job, it seems, is a top priority for the younger generation of women bankers.
“Jobs at banks are considered as a ‘golden bowl’,” says Celine. “I can pursue a white-collar lifestyle. I enjoy a good reputation and high social recognition. Also, I think women tend to prefer having more stability in life, but men usually define success by how good they are in their careers.”
Yue from HSBC in Shanghai, remarks: “From female graduates’ perspective, they can step into a stable career path, plan their personal life, and explore opportunities in other directions within the financial industry.”
Lack of discrimination
Meanwhile, equal opportunities at both local and foreign firms are helping to create a positive career environment for women.
“I’ve never witnessed any glass ceiling for female bankers in any of the banks I’ve worked for. And I’ve met so many senior female bankers, fund managers in both Beijing and Shanghai,” says P.K, Goldman Sachs, Singapore.
HSBC’s Yue adds: “I don’t see a significant difference between local banks and foreign banks in China in terms of hiring talents. As long as female candidates are well-educated or have relevant working experience, they will be fine.”
Leaping from manager to leader is still difficult
However, as women get older and juggle their careers and their family lives, they often face more challenges than men when climbing the corporate ladder. For example, male bankers are more likely to be selected for overseas assignment because it’s much easier for them to relocate their families. A lack of international experience is one of the key reasons why we still only see a small number of female bankers reach the very top.
“Although there’ll be more female managers at banks, the barriers to becoming top bankers are still the traditional reasons. Females play a more substantial role in family life, particularly with children, and energy is a key driver for top bankers. And I can’t avoid mentioning that banks live on public trust: in most people's minds, a male CEO is more trustworthy than a female,” laments Yue.