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Breaking barriers in a man’s world

Breaking barriers in a man’s world

Sith Sophary, 45, at the Sihanoukville branch of ACLEDA Bank.

LIKE most businesses in the country, Cambodia’s banking sector is male-dominated. Senior management positions tend to go to men with women standing at the till greeting customers or providing secretarial support for their male bosses.

However, for every rule there are exceptions.

Sith Sophary, 45, is one such exception. A graduate in business from the National Institute of Management, she joined ACLEDA Bank as an accountant in 1996. Twelve years later she became branch manager in Sihanoukville.

“Being a manager is difficult, but at ACLEDA the difficulty is small because we have a good management system at the top,” she says. “If we have confidence in ourselves to be managers we have the opportunity.”

One of only five female ACLEDA Bank branch managers out of 66 in the country, Sith Sophary says her family have supported her throughout her career. Even having two sons has not had a negative impact upon her career.

“It is not difficult for me because I have my mother to look after my children,” she says. “My children study in Phnom Penh and stay with their grandmother.”

Although she has never encountered a problem from clients wanting to see a male bank manager, Sith Sophary accepts that women in Cambodian have fewer opportunities than men.

“Generally, the public see women as weak, but the most important thing depends on us,” she says. “We have to produce the results by ourselves.”

However, Sith Sophary believes the situation for women is improving.

“Now we see a lot of change in society, they do not think like before,” she says. “The government has a gender policy to encourage women to work and also at ACLEDA Bank we have the policy to promote more women to work. Across the country in ACLEDA we have five [female] branch managers and before we only had two.”

Being a woman might be to Sith Sophary’s advantage, at least in Sihanoukville where most of the bank’s customers are women.

“They are in charge of most of the businesses around the market,” she says. “They also control the land titles and money. It is an advantage that we have more people at the front desk dealing with customers.”