When Tamao Sasada was put in charge of a large Japanese corporate client, she broke into a cold sweat. Now, the Bank of America Corp. executive is urging other female colleagues to take on new challenges as she forges a path in sustainable finance.

Then a Merrill Lynch employee in her 30s, she wasn’t aware of any other women investment bankers who had been given such a big assignment in the country’s male-dominated business world.

“Honestly speaking, I had some uneasiness,” Sasada, Bank of America’s country head for Japan, said in a recent interview. She recalls that she would often be the only woman in meetings with clients. “But after handling that work, I really felt glad that I did it — the key is ‘just give it a try.’”

Today, Sasada is trying to instill the same attitude among female employees as the firm’s Tokyo office strives for gender parity for graduates coming to work at the U.S. bank. That would mark a major milestone for a country that lags behind Angola and Myanmar on the World Economic Forum’s gender-gap index.

She’s also behind a push to create a culture in which “every employee acts with ESG in mind,” Sasada said. The company, like many others, has been training bankers on the importance of environmental, social and governance themes so they can add value to advice and services for clients.

BofA Japan aims to maintain a “leadership position” in the business of underwriting ESG bonds denominated in currencies other than the yen, she said. The bank is second to Morgan Stanley in that category this year after grabbing the top place in 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Japanese companies are likely to accelerate their decarbonization efforts, meaning that it is important for us to work together with clients to support their intentions,” she said.

Another component of that ESG drive, addressing societal inequalities, is for Sasada to hire more women in Japan. She’s aiming to bring the ratio of females among college-grad hires in line with the company’s global target of 50%, up from the current 45%.

About 30% of BofA managers in Tokyo are women, roughly the same as the bank’s global ratio but more than other financial companies in Japan. Data from Teikoku Databank Ltd. in August showed just 13% of women working at Japanese financial firms held managerial jobs.

Sasada says she and BofA help women take on new challenges by offering mentoring and other assistance, and also support them “fairly” at times of promotions. A key message she tells her female staff is to “go out of your comfort zone,” she said.

“I have fortunately been provided with various challenges and opportunities since I was relatively young, and I’ve learned through them that if an opportunity presents itself, we should just give it a try.”

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