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Tea Lady Turns Executive as Japan Banks Promote Women

Teiko Kudo has come a long way from her days at a Sumitomo Bank branch in the 1980s, when clients often asked her to hand the phone to a male loan officer because she was a woman. Last month she became the lender’s first female top manager, promoted to a level shared by 88 men.

“The start of my career was a struggle,” said the 49-year-old who was named a director last month at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., recalling how she had to serve tea despite being one of the first women hired for career-track positions under Japan’s 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law. “Now I go to meetings surrounded by male executives all wearing dark suits, which can be nerve-racking.”