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Headhunters talk about the push for women bankers

Banks are pushing hard to hire more women at every level, from graduates to seasoned managing directors. Executive search firms can help, by scouring the market for top female talent. But banks must change too.

Across Asia, banks are under growing pressure to hire more women, as well as to retain the female financial talent already on their books. It’s an ambition shared internally by boards and employees, and externally by investors and interest groups.

But it hasn’t been easy. That banks have historically over-hired men and under-hired women is not a cliché but a verifiable fact.

Crowdsourced pay data provider Emolument reckons the ratio of men to women in front-office investment banking jobs falls from 5:1 at the lowest levels (associate, analyst) to 17:1 at the level of managing director. If the first number is a disparity, the second is a chasm.

Plenty of women want to work in the industry. Consider the fact that in 2019, 42% of the students attending Harvard Business School were female. But too few make it all the way to the top. In a 2018 report, McKinsey found that less than a fifth of all C-suite executives working in finance were women.

Clearly, somewhere along the way, a lot of that early-and-eager talent is lost or frittered away.

Natasha Madhavana Selby Jennings.jpg
Natasha Madhavan, Selby Jennings

Most banks are painfully aware of this discrepancy.

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