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Are banks in Asia more prepared to hire and promote women than their counterparts in the UK and the US?

Recruiters seem to think so. "Performance and ability dictate position, not sex," agrees John Jessen, founding partner of Smith & Jessen. "In Asia, relationships play a greater role than in the West. This is often the deciding factor when hiring. Relationships influence performance and it's the result that counts."

Jessen says 40% of his firm's candidates in Asia are female. "Women rarely command the top job at regional or divisional level in investment banking but often are one step below at country, product or department level. At mid level, ie VP and director level, 40% would be women. This is healthy compared to the trading floors of London and New York, which are very much white Anglo-Saxon male dominated," asserts Jessen.

Asia certainly has more than its fair share of senior women - take Teresa Lin, joint group head of corporate and investment banking at DBS Bank; or Ho Ching, chief executive officer of Temasek Holdings.

"I do not think there is any discrimination preventing women assuming top jobs," says Jennifer Goh, consultant for front-office banking at Robert Walters. "We put forward candidates with strong credentials irrespective of gender."

Goh isn't quite as bullish on women's prospects as Jessen, however. She says 20% of all candidates for investment banking, private equity and hedge fund roles are female. But 40% of applicants for junior roles with between one and three years' experience are women. "In the years to come, this will be reflected in the number of women in more senior roles," she predicts.

Goh says family reasons explain why some women are drawn to non-investment banking roles. "Investment banking involves extremely long hours, unpopular with women starting a family," she says. "We are starting to see candidates with four to six years' experience switching from investment banking to private banking or sales roles."

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