BANGKOK • As one of four presidents at Thailand's biggest lender, Kasikornbank, Ms Kattiya Indaravijaya often conducts interviews for senior positions. The job candidates are impressive. And almost always, they're women.
"I'm wondering, there's no guy?" Ms Kattiya, 51, said in an interview. "Perhaps women's interest is in banking and finance. Perhaps guys have a different passion."
In Thailand, where years of educational equality have combined with a profession that rewards maths skills and merit, women comprise 31 per cent of board and executive committee members in financial services - the highest proportion in the world after Norway and Sweden, according to a study last year by consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
In the United States, the representation of women in similar positions is 20 per cent. Japan is at the bottom of the list, with 2 per cent.
"Men probably look for more exciting and challenging jobs than the financial industry, where work requires more patience, detail, caution and rule compliance," said Ms Voravan Tarapoom, president of the Association of Investment Management Companies, a mutual funds trade group. "They may feel financial industry work is boring."
Women account for 57 per cent of Thailand's finance and insurance workforce, according to government statistics. Yet, the fact that two-thirds of senior management and executive roles are filled by men indicates Thai women still face challenges in achieving equality, said Ms Joni Simpson of International Labour Organisation in Bangkok.
Overall, Asia looks like a hard place for women bankers, especially for those in the 50-to-60 age group, when senior executives typically get a chance to serve on boards.
Singapore, whose finance workforce is 55 per cent women, doesn't have enough of them in boardrooms. Hong Kong, Japan, China and Taiwan are hardly better, said Bloomberg Gadfly's Andy Mukherjee. A lingering shadow of low literacy and outmoded social attitudes means that in most parts of South Asia, save Sri Lanka, no more than one in six banking execs is female.
Ms Kattiya observed that she was the only woman at a World Economic Forum dinner event in Davos in January among more than 30 business people "from Russia, Japan and Thailand". "So it's still a male-dominated world. Women are playing major roles in the business world, but there is still more to come," she added.