Women in the US finance industry applaud signs of progress at financial giants like Citigroup, which became the first big Wall Street bank to name a female chief executive.
Still, even as more women rise and some companies allow greater flexibility to working mothers, finance remains a challenging career domain and progress is coming more slowly than many women would like.
- 'Never been easy' -
As a little girl, Hermina Batson was always curious when she saw cash exchanged.
"I was always wondering when my parents paid for things, why we never got the same bill back," Batson told AFP. "I wanted to know what was happening."
Batson's mother took her to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when she was six.
She has been hooked on finance ever since, even while recognizing that the career, as an African American, "has never been easy."
"I did not feel rejected. I might have felt awkward," she said.
Throughout her career, senior management or clients would sometimes hand Batson their coat when they arrived at a meeting. Eventually she learned to return the gesture.
After high school, Batson, who goes by Nina, immediately began working for a bank. After studying securitization in college, she worked her way up to senior positions, eventually spending 25 years at Japanese bank MUFG.
"Though I'm currently in transition, I'm very much looking forward to staying in the financial industry," she said.
Batson will take over as president of the Financial Women's Association in July. The group was established in 1956 after its founders were turned away from a men's club to share professional experiences and further their knowledge.
Batson applauded Citigroup's appointment of Jane Fraser as the first female chief executive of a giant Wall Street bank.
"For a woman, or anybody that's underrepresented, to be able to look and see someone that looks like them, or has a similar upbringing, is very, very important to moving the needle," she said.
Transparency has improved following US banking regulations requiring data on employee diversity, but "we're not there yet," she said.
The wage gap especially is still too wide, Batson added.
- Need 'a strong network' -
Anna Zhou, 22, was undecided on her career path when she started at Yale University in 2016 after being recruited to the fencing team.
She began exploring finance after one of her friends introduced her to Girls Who Invest (GWI), whose mission is to boost the number of women in portfolio management and executive leadership in asset management.
The organization helped Zhou line up a summer internship at Wellington Management in Boston.
She found support from women at different levels of the firm. Keeping in touch helped Zhou land a job at Wellington after she graduated.
Zhou sees signs of progress on diversity in finance, but says there is "room for improvement."
"Since my freshman year at Yale, more opportunities for women to enter finance have emerged," she said. "Through my involvement with GWI, I both experienced and am currently promoting the importance of a strong network for females in the finance industry."
Mentoring from senior colleagues has been crucial, she said, adding: "I have a clear view of my career path ahead."
- Grateful to work part-time -
"Before it was even popular, S&P gave me the opportunity to work part time when I started having my family, in 1993," recalled Robin Prunty.
Prunty, 57, who has been at S&P Global Ratings since 1987, had originally expected to work the reduced schedule for six months, but "ended up working part-time for 17 years," she said.
"I really appreciated that flexibility, and I think it really made a big difference to other women coming into the organization after me," she said. "That really was a big factor in my decision to stay at S&P."
Prunty kept gaining experience working part-time even if her career didn't advance as quickly as it might have.
"When I came back full time and was ready to take on management responsibilities, they were fully supportive of that," said Prunty, who currently manages analytics and research on US public finance.
Prunty is active in the women's bond club and applauds the more significant focus on diversity in recent years throughout the industry, but adds: "I think there's room for improvement."