Woman Power Emerging in Financial Industry
By Yoon Ja-young
Alpha girls are sweeping school and work, and the financial industry is not an exception. As one of the most sophisticated but conservative industries, the financial industry had set a high entry barrier for women. Not anymore. Equipped with good academic records and interview skills, females are more than half of the rookies in banks.
Still, women seem to face difficulties as they go along their career track. According to the Korea Women's Development Institute, the ratio of females, which hovers above 50 percent among the workforce in their 30s in local banks, plunges to 13.9 percent among those in their forties.
On top of the existing glass ceilings they face when they get to the managerial level, female workers are less likely to have mentors or networking to give them the right information and to help them out in this still male-dominant society.
Korea, which seeks to become a regional financial hub and wants to develop financial industry as its future growth engine, needs to encourage talented females to enter the financial industry.
Ewha-Citi Global Finance Academy, a collaborative program between the Department of Business Administration at the prestigious women only university and Citibank in 2001, aims at helping female students make a more realistic approach to the financial industry. Over 100 students from both undergraduate and graduate schools take the class this semester, with some 750 students having taken the course so far.
Each semester, 12 senior executives from Citibank Korea who have more than 15 years of experience or MBA degrees participate as lecturers on 12 topics. Through the semester students come to get a glimpse on what a bank does, ranging from global finance, corporate banking, consumer business, wealth management, credit management, investment banking, risk management, foreign exchange and derivatives, bancassurance, anti money laundering and bank marketing. The course ends with a Citibank personnel officer giving tips on career development.
Koh Soo-yeon, in her first-year majoring in finance at the graduate school, says she came to understand the banking industry. ``I had no idea other than extending and receiving credit and corporate financing with regard to what banks do. The program, meanwhile, introduced me to the complicated world of finance such as derivatives and risk management, with experts in the field giving us a glimpse into their job,'' Koh said.
Most of the students are first exposed to senior-level managers who actively work in the world of finance. Offering students a chance to meet and interact with financial specialists in the field, the program bridges the gap between academia and the business sector. Students get help in setting up their future career paths.
``They not only give the lecture, but also give us valuable advice. They always leave their e-mail at the end of the class so that we could seek their advice anytime regarding our future career,'' Koh said.
The program is very popular. The school offers the largest classroom for the course, but some students had to give up taking the class since there were not enough seats. Koh also said she sees the financial industry getting more popular among female students. ``I think people see vision here. They say financial industry will become the new growth engine of the economy, and it offers more level playing field for females compared with other industry,'' she said.
Hwang Sung-bai, a managing director and division head of the corporate sales and structuring department who has been volunteering as a lecturer for the Ewha-Citi Global Finance Academy since 2001, said he wants to give equal opportunity to women. ``I'm just trying to locate the right person at the right place. There are many young, talented, smart women in schools, but the ratio of females falls far behind at work. As a manger, I am only concerned about how to make the best performance. If a woman can best do a certain task, she should be given the chance.''
Women make up around 30 percent of the workforce in his division, which deals with foreign exchange and derivatives. The ratio is very high compared with other banks. Foreign exchange and derivatives has generally been considered an arena for men. Citibank Korea is known for its efforts to give equal opportunities for women. On top of the Ewha-Citi Global Finance Academy, the bank has been supporting female entrepreneurs of small-and-medium sized businesses. It has had some females at the top level, including executive vice presidents.
Citibank Korea has also been operating a diversity committee since 2006, to give equal opportunities to people regardless of gender, age or status. Hwang has been an active member of the committee, looking for ways to enhance diversity in recruiting. ``I think diversity is a surviving tip for the business in this tough competition in the industry. We should recruit the talented people and help them develop their talent.''
Hwang said gender inequality arises from men's protection on their vested interests. He sees politics behind the discrimination at work. ``Some men want to exclude talented females from getting in. They want to keep their privilege as a man, as a senior. For the sake of the company as a whole, however, talented people should get promoted,'' he said.
Hwang gave some tips on female students how to prepare themselves to survive the fierce competition in the job market.
His very first advice is to ``Do action.'' He said female students should try to act on instead of thinking only. ``The ones who took the trouble to meet people, to get information, do better.'' An internship could give them an answer to many questions they have regarding a job. ``They would know the atmosphere of the work by doing the internship. They would know whether the job suits them, what they have to study, and what background they should have to get the job.'' Ewha-Citi Global Finance Academy offers four students an opportunity to do the internship at Citibank Korea.
He added that further study such as pursuing an MBA offers more opportunity.