DRAGON LADIES, slave drivers or alpha femmes - call them what you like. But even though prime-time television features women executives from the Trump organisation, their number in today's boardrooms and executive suites is still relatively low. Traditionally, successful women have been tagged with uncomplimentary adjectives and aspersions have been made about their route to the top. Their achievements are often not recognised on their own merit, partly because everyone is too busy wondering why a man was not chosen for the position. When a woman is appointed to a senior role, much of the office chatter is on whether the company wanted someone more controllable, softer, or just a new face to represent the organisation's diversity campaign. Yet, according to Shera Lee, senior vice-president and head of consumer banking at Fubon Bank, many of these misperceptions and stereotypes are on the way out. She said 60 per cent of Fubon's retail banking team was made up of women in positions ranging from senior managers to tellers, administrative assistants and employees doing promotional work. 'Normally, women are more sales-oriented, patient and get along better with other people,' Ms Lee said. There are more men, however, in finance functions, back-office operations, IT - and in the boardroom. Ms Lee has an EMBA and said the qualification was very important if you wanted to make your mark in banking. Although she had taken an undergraduate degree in business administration at Chinese University, she went back to school to get an EMBA after she had a few years of work experience behind her. This allowed her to get much more out of the postgraduate programme. 'My husband studied for his MBA first and I took mine three years later,' she said. 'I went for a part-time course and was working as the bank's general manager at the same time. I was so busy, though, that I did not even have time to talk to my children.' Wendy Kwan, vice-president of investment products group at Deutsche Bank, said that practical experience was perhaps more important than an MBA for those intent on getting the corner office in the company. Ms Kwan also said that having a good mentor helped deal with career difficulties encountered along the way. According to the office of Hong Kong's Commissioner for Census and Statistics, the number of women finance executives earning more than $40,000 was 6.6 per cent in 2004 compared to men at 14.2 per cent, as reported in the General Household Survey, Census and Statistics Department. Though this skew is going away gradually, it is still the case in local boardrooms, where there will typically be one woman in a top management position to every 10 men. While the women involved at board level are breaking new ground to a certain extent, their seniority can lead to problems with building relationships both in the workplace and outside. 'Especially for more traditional Chinese people, the man may not want his other half to be so senior,' Ms Lee said. 'So, if a woman is unmarried but already at a high level within the company, she may be thought of as threatening. I was lucky to get married quite early when I was not that senior, and my husband always supported my career.' She puts much of her own success down to the backing and encouragement of her family, who share her domestic responsibilities. Ms Lee advises other women executives to be clear about what they want from their careers and to consider carefully how they go about it. 'In the workplace, concentrate on your work and career goals. If possible, avoid attracting unnecessary attention and try to keep work issues separate from your personal life,' Ms Lee said. Ms Lee said that different environments called for the ability to play different roles. At home, domestic matters came first and had to be handled appropriately. 'At the bank, I am the boss or supervisor, so you have to make decisions and be a little bit aggressive,' said Ms Lee. 'But when I get home, I do not want to make any decisions. I ask my husband to take responsibility for all the decisions then and I don't think of myself as a boss in front of my kids.' It is widely acknowledged that, in most professions, women have to outshine their male colleagues even to get the same opportunities for promotion. However, they may also have to climb the corporate ladder without any real help from women colleagues. It is fair to assume that envy plays a part in this and shows why it is so important to develop working relationships based on mutual respect. Ms Lee found that motherhood changed everything, even her management style. 'Earlier, I felt my subordinates had to listen to me because I was the boss. After becoming a mother, I realised that young children just do not listen to instructions, even if you shout at them. What you can do, though, is try to influence by talking and explaining what you want. That is a lesson I was able to apply later in the workplace.' Ms Lee said that in a management role you should not be thinking about gender issues when dealing with subordinates, but should simply aim to do the best possible job. 'When an employee comes to you, he or she is asking for your advice as a boss, and that is what you must give.'