Despite the spotlight on DEI today, women's participation in the BFSI workforce still remains low. In fact, a recent report highlighted that the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in the country has fallen from 30.27 percent in 1990 to 20.8 percent in 2019, as per data from the World Bank.
The disruptions in the last couple of years have further exacerbated employment inequalities, with the burden of housework typically falling on the shoulders of women.
How can we reduce these employment inequalities? What role can organisations play in minimising the gender diversity gap in the BFSI sector?
In a recent interaction with Meghna Gupta, Head – Human Resources, Axis AMC, we discuss some of the biggest challenges prolonging sustainable DEI in the BFSI sector.
How do you see the gender diversity landscape in the BFSI sector?
With the steadily changing attitude of working professionals, one thing is for certain. There are a plethora of opportunities for women to build their professional careers in the BFSI sector.
Our banking sector has witnessed the power of some dynamic women leaders who have changed the banking experience and now, we have also seen the election of India’s first woman to lead a financial regulatory organization (SEBI). All these are positive signs that we hope will influence more women than ever to pursue their dream careers in the BFSI sector.
Despite the host of initiatives undertaken by organisations across sectors to increase overall female strength, the sad truth still remains that gender diversity is low in the finance industry.
We surely need to have more women representatives in strategic roles (especially in the C-suite level) as one of the foremost initiatives to fix the gender divide.
Due to the onset of the hybrid working model, firms in the BFSI sector are outlining policies to ensure that they recruit a gender diverse workforce.
The FinTech industry, I believe, has a huge role in further propelling this narrative. I am taking this platform to talk about a beautiful initiative that we have started at a group level wherein we are inviting ‘homemakers’ to be a part of the organisation and opening up vacancies for them. And we are not talking about women who started their professional journey and then took a break to take care of their homes, or families.
We are looking at inviting women who never stepped into the professional world to have a chance at being a part of the corporate world. And we recognise that homemakers could be of all genders. The idea is that if you are able to manage a house, multiple age groups, multiple personalities, and finances in the home, you can put this skill to be successful in the corporate world too.
There has been an uptick from considering women for merely representative roles to actually being leaders that are taking the charge and leading successfully. It is a long way to go surely, but these are definitely positive changes (for me) in terms of diversity shaping up in recent times.
What are some of the biggest challenges prolonging sustainable DEI? How can organisations overcome these?
Before we talk about the challenges, one must acknowledge that different companies are in different stages of their DEI growth journey. There are certain organisations that have transformed on a global scale, while some still struggle to try and understand the meaning of DEI. Therein lies our biggest challenge! Lack of adequate infrastructure, leadership support, standardized measurement metrics (to assess companies and their efforts) and even cultural biases are some of the reasons for this. Understanding what DEI really means and devising processes and structures to promote and implement it internally is no easy task.
Additionally, what happens is that there is usually a core team that charts out the DEI pathway but the realisation of that plan falls on the business leaders, creating a gap between intent and execution.
What we need, foremost, is the active involvement of senior leadership teams to set agendas that ensure DEI is not a KRA to be achieved by the HR department, but a core component of the organisations, trickling from the very up to the junior-most members.
Furthermore, employers need to conduct sessions to not only sensitize employees about DEI but also address their concerns over it in an open forum. Regular specific interventions and surveys to find out the pulse of the employees and their expectations will be crucial in determining the way forward. Looking for talent at the grass-root level to create a diversified talent pipeline will be needed.
Of course, there is no formula for DEI and every organisations has to chart its own journey. But the very fact that we are even having this conversation is a big positive sign that we are moving ahead on the road (admittedly not an easy one) for an inclusive society.
In particular to gender diversity, how do you see the role of men in enabling and accelerating gender equity?
Men have a very important role to play in enabling and accelerating gender equity, though it is often undervalued. The under-representation of women offers an opportunity to engage men as allies to help advance gender equality. Initiatives such as unconscious bias training and reciprocal mentoring programs (such as matching senior leaders with women employees working in different disciplines or geographies) can not only help reduce apathy but also understand inequalities that we may never even otherwise see! Dedicated workshops and employee networks will be instrumental in creating an open environment for all employees, leading to larger awareness among all, ultimately leading to a change in attitude.
Data clearly shows that gender diversity leads to better operational and financial performance. What with the pandemic resulting in the creation of a hybrid workplace, we will have more flexibility in our working styles, enabling companies to create a gender-balanced workforce. Communicating fairly and modeling the right behavior may seem like a small step but it will go a long way to accelerate gender equity.
How can they fast-track the shift in the BFSI sector?
A recently released McKinsey Report titled “Diversity Wins” has asserted the importance of DEI more strongly than ever. The report shows that the relationship between business cases and executive teams has become more robust than ever, thanks to diversity; and its eventual likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time as well.
Driven by these positive sentiments, employers are more than ready to translate the intent of equity into action to build long-term sustainable businesses that are run by people who are aligned on their values, ethos, and culture. Companies that are winning at diversity are not only adopting systematic business-led approaches to diversity but also ensuring a special focus on inclusion.
While it will be difficult to comment on the entire sector at large but the BFSI industry has undergone a momentous shift. Not only is there more awareness and education about gender and gender expressions, but there is a universal acknowledgment of how DEI will only help further propel businesses and the economy.
We can see the shift in thought processes and attitude to fast-track this change. Allow me to explain some of the activities that we have undertaken.
At Axis AMC, we believe that acceptance is key. Our larger group-level narrative of ‘Dil Se Open’ is not just a meticulously written down policy on paper, but a philosophy that we ardently believe in.
Under this philosophy, we have announced our initiative of #ComeAsYouAre, a charter of policies and practices for our employees and customers including and not limited to any gender, ethnicity, religion, caste, etc. thus ensuring a diverse representation and thereby taking active steps to promote and implement equity and inclusion.
Right from ensuring employees have a redressal process, separate gender neutral washrooms, infrastructure with easy accessibility for differently abled persons, dress in accordance with their gender/ gender expression, and list their partners for Mediclaim Benefits --- all measures are taken to ensure that the employees feel comfortable, accepted and be assessed only basis their work performance.
What are your top three DEI priorities for 2022?
Female-specific hiring in sales to counter the notion that females are not suitable for field roles
Create awareness regarding unconscious biases and their implication inthe work environment through workshops and awareness sessions.
Mentoring existing female employees to have big vision for themselves and pursue relentlessly to achieve the same