The finance industry across the globe has traditionally been male- dominated. Despite recent gains in other sectors of the economy regarding gender diversity and equal pay, the finance industry is still lagging.
In South Korea – a nation where the gender divide for a developed country is still vast – showed that of 190,000 workers at 1,275 finance companies, 84 percent of men earned more than 50 million won annually. For women taking home the same amount was 51 percent, according to a survey by the Korea Institute of Finance.
Despite the uneven playing field, women inside the finance industry are striving to break the glass ceiling. Yoo Myung-soon, a graduate of Ewha who studied English education, became South Korea's first female private sector banking CEO in 2020 at Citibank Korea.
When Yoo began her career during the 1980’s, females were still considered a minority gender in the workplace.
“Looking back, I'm grateful to Citi for providing me with an equal role and developmental opportunities,” Yoo said. “Citi has always put diversity as a top priority, and I benefited from various programs and opportunities offered at Citi.”
While there have been many improvements in South Korea and the finance industry regarding gender diversity and pay equality, Yoo believes that a “voice from the top” is still one of the most effective ways to change organizations.
“I am confident that there will be many more female banking CEOs in the future,” Yoo said. “I hope I can give many female juniors who are all working hard in their fields courage and hope. I am also excited and cautious about becoming the CEO at a very challenging time for a traditional bank, as the banking industry – especially consumer banking – is going through a rapid transition with accelerated digitization and consumer behavior change triggered by COVID-19.”
For Yoo, a shift in perception towards women in the workplace starts with individuals, driving the change in traditional workplace attitudes – from more confidence in themselves to taking pride in their work. The recommendation for women in finance, according to Yoo, is that they should be constantly ready to develop themselves through feedback from both male and female colleagues – but nothing should block them from growing as respected leaders.
“Women tend to be harsher on themselves and have high standards on their performance,” Yoo noted. “Identify development opportunities, but don’t get discouraged by simply comparing yourself to other people around you. Women are asked to take charge of many different responsibilities: being mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law and sisters. If you try to be a superwoman, you will be very unhappy and burn out. Set your priorities in stages of your life and career. Don’t feel guilty about what you might have missed or chosen otherwise.”
Many companies, including Citi, are now offering more inclusive working terms for women who have multiple roles like flexible hours, generous maternity leave packages, and childcare. Yoo believes that women can take advantage of this progression to reduce the risks of choosing between a career and a family.
Over recent years and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, employment barriers went up for younger generations. Yoo thinks that young women and those studying at Ewha should explore and develop themselves into emerging fields like data and artificial intelligence.
“I encourage all fellow Ewha alumni to explore and develop themselves in these new areas and not limit themselves to what they already know well,” Yoo said. “Now is the right time to come out of your comfort zone and develop your intelligence in new and unfamiliar areas.”