Banking And Gender Equality

Arjun Singh Rathore

“You can tell the condition of a nation by looking the status of its women.”
-Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru

Gender parity is not just good for women-it’s good for societies. And especially India has been taking many measures in recent years to introduce gender equality to the workplace, but some could argue that a few women in top positions isn’t enough to bring true equality to a traditionally male dominated Banking & Insurance industry. We have some bigger than life examples who have worked at helm of affairs (working & retired) like
* Arundhati Bhattacharya (Chairperson, State bank of India);
* Chanda Kochhar (CEO and MD ICICI Bank);
* Kalpana Morparia (CEO JP Morgan India);
* Naina Lal Kidwai (CEO and Country Head HSBC, India);
* Ranjana Kumar (Chairperson NABARD);
* Shanti Ekambaram (President Consumer Banking, Kotak Mahindra Bank);
* Shikha Sharma (CEO and Managing Director Axis Bank);
* Usha Ananthasubramanian (CMD Bhartiya Mahila Bank);
* Rajni Saraf (President Strategy & IT JK Bank)
But women still make up only seven percent of board positions for publicly traded companies while only eleven percent of Indian firms have women participating in ownership. By comparison, Norway, the world leader in workplace gender equality, has forty percent female board members for publicly listed companies.
India’s banking sector has witnessed explosive growth and expansion ever since the era of economic reforms was launched in early nineties. That growth has also created new windows of opportunity for women to find employment in the banking sector.
In fact, the nationalization of the Indian Banking sector in 1969 served as the first major step to reduce gender discrimination against women in banking jobs. However despite of some leading female bankers named above, the general pattern of women’s employment in this sector has shown that there has been a sort of persistent invisible glass ceiling against women acquiring the top management positions in banking.
With the opening up of the banking to the private sector in India, there is more employment transparency and purely merit-based job opportunities are getting a boost in this sector. The figures sourced from IBA, points out that in 1970, women comprised only 5% of the bank’s total workforce. But by the 1990’s, women occupied a majority of clerical and computer programming jobs and now as of today in banking industry the women employment in the field of banking associates, officers in inland banking as well as in the field of specialization, be it programming in EDP, Law, or Trainings, the numbers have gone up around 27 to 30 percent, and this has happened only because the bank managements believe that women tend to put in greater efforts in their work, and many times, are better qualified to perform the job than their men counterparts.
The general perception of the recruitment boards appear to be that women are more diligent towards their duty, and have a much smaller incidence of being involved in corrupt and fraudulent activities against the interest of the bank. However, at the same time, another perception stereotype that goes against women rising to higher management positions in banking seems to be that women are not so ambitious as men, and largely have a clerical working mind-set.
At the same time women who are looking to strike a better balance between work and familial responsibilities tend to prefer jobs in the banking sector. Banking jobs are perceived to provide a better stability, lesser travel, regular working hours, and a secure work environment, unlike many field jobs. Although for top management banking positions, the wind still appears to blow strongly in the favour of men in terms of sheer numbers. But there are shining examples like Ms. Arundhati Bhattacharya Chairperson State Bank of India, who made it to the very top in Indian Banking industry.
The new employment mantra for the banking organizations as well as for the women aspiring to reach the top in India’s banking sector is perhaps best summed up in the words of Ms. Chanda Kochhar: “While many women have moved forward in banking, they have done so because they have worked as hard and as many long hours as men have. That’s the way going forward. Organizations should look at merit and not discriminate based on gender. Similarly, women should not expect any special advantages or favours. If they want to grow, they have to put in the hard work and the hours and the travel that’s required”.
It may well, not be surprising to say that the world should look to India as a model of gender equality. India’s banking sector proves the exception, with several women reaching the highest positions in India’s top banks, including the country’s largest bank. However there are some common problems faced by women managers, officers and clerical groups in banking, in the course of their careers. These include the burden of dual role, sexual harassment in the workplace, the refusal of men to accept women as colleagues or seniors, the need to work twice as men to gain recognition and the lack of solidarity among women. Around fifty percent of women have complaints that extra work is always shunted to them, sexual harassment from colleagues, managers or customers, dissatisfaction that they are not sent out for trainings as compared to their male counterparts. Some obstacles arise from women specific difficulties in demanding promotion – as promotions are linked with transfers. Women have difficulties in working late, so they shy away from responsibility, and they have a low opinion of their own abilities and a negative attitude to accepting recognition. Some women employees feel that these constraints are intensified by being forced to adopt the behaviour of the ‘successful manager or officer’ which has been established by men. To improve prospects for women restructuring the work by flexible working hours, part-time job assignments, split location positions performed partly at home, and job sharing opportunities can be made available. Women feel the thirst for more knowledge and better career prospects. Stagnation somehow also scares them. The discrimination experienced by women working in banks is mainly in terms of the lack of infrastructural facilities, the transfer policy and assumptions that women would not be interested in training or in promotions. Union and management seem one-sided rather than multidimensional. In the union workshops and meetings, women are addressed as union members and in the management circles as bank employees. But women employees feel they are much more than that. They play multiple role such as employees, home-makers, thinking and feeling human beings, ambitious and much more. The human resources departments need to keep this perspective in mind. Women feel the need for different types of inputs too. In the wake of liberalization and globalization and the changes in Indian banking, they want to know what is happening in the banking and finance sectors in other countries in terms of women’s employment.
Globalization is definitely narrowing the gender rift. It has brought in the realization that performance can never be gender based. Today many top banking companies consider female employees to be better professionals and incentives are designed accordingly. Women’s career aspirations have evolved steadily during the twenty first century, resulting in their increased workforce participation rates. Organizations need to take an active part in attracting and retaining talented women professionals as they may equally serve as genuine assets in the knowledge era. The last decade has seen a systematic rise in the employment of women in the banking and finance sector. The result of a multiplicity of factors, including: profound social changes taking place in India regarding women’s education and employment, the changing policies of management. The policies of the Indian government, international changes in banking and finance and, not least, the technological changes effected in the industry paved way for career minded women to be part of the industry. The rise of women in the workforce has shown significant improvements for women, families and even poverty level.
(The author is Executive Manager & Branch Head at JK Bank Marble
Market, Jammu)

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