Mentorship contributes 50 per cent to a woman’s development. The other 50 per cent is her own talent
Though women constitute 17 per cent of the workforce in banks, their representation at the executive cadre is quite low at 2.66 per cent
A lot has been written about the emergence of women leaders in Public Sector Banks (PSBs) and financial institutions. While this is a welcome trend, it may not be so in the future as there are not that many women in the pipeline.
Earlier, banking and finance were seen as male domains. Today, the situation has improved because of education and the increasing number of opportunities available to women. There is a sea change in perception as well. Women are given equal number of opportunities in promotions; this has resulted in banks and financial institutions now being headed by women.
This is definitely a very positive, healthy and encouraging sign that they are visible at the top. But, when I look at the data, it shows that the supply line to the top management positions – General Managers (GM) – is still not properly represented by women. Out of the 650 GMs in PSBs, there are only 36 women GMs (less than 5 per cent). SBI alone has 16 GMs. As many as 12 PSBs do not have even a single woman GM, including a bank as large as Bank of India. Data for other top positions is equally dismal. Out of 44 Executive Directors, 2 Deputy Managing Directors in IDBI and 4 Managing Directors in SBI, there are only 2 women as Executive Directors. One of them is slated to take over as CMD of the proposed Bharatiya Mahila Bank, the first all women bank in the country.
The core problem is that in spite of a fairly good representation of women employees, (now estimated over 20 per cent), there are early exits on account of resignations or giving up promotions due to a variety of circumstances. In order to make sure that the talent pipeline for the senior and top levels is maintained, the banks have to make a very conscious effort in diversity management including an emphatic focus on the women resource development, including special training programmes, job rotation and special assignments to enable them to develop multi-level competencies and confidence. In early 70s and 80s, women came into banking, generally as an additional economic support to the families and reconciled to a subdued career aspiration. Since the 90s, with the advent of technology and liberalization, increasing number of women have pursued higher academic qualifications including specialized areas like information technology, chartered accountancy, etc. More and more women are taking up such specialized functions like credit, treasury, HR, risk management, law etc. And they now pursue higher level career agenda. They are willing to take up challenging assignments, increasingly mobile and willing to learn. Therefore women, with higher potential need encouragement and mentorship. While they may not be as good in networking skills as the men folk, they are certainly more articulate and career conscious.
They need an internal culture which on the one hand is accommodative to their special problems and on the other encourages them to take up challenging assignments.
This is why I am concerned whether this trend of women banking leaders in PSB space is sustainable. Khandelwal committee on HR in Public Sector Banks (2010), which I had the privilege to chair, explored these options and pointed out that only a small percentage of women make it to the top. In nationalized banks, women constitute about 17 per cent of the total work force. In spite of a good presence in the clerical cadre (26.5 per cent), their representation in executive cadre (2.66 per cent) is quite low.
The committee has suggested that PSBs should develop women talent with an accommodative spirit during difficult times of their career. They have to consciously devise policies to encourage those who have aspirations by training, grooming and giving them different assignments. The committee has suggested that women be granted sabbatical of two years during their career to meet special needs. The government has since accepted this recommendation.
One of the weaknesses in a woman’s career and in most of the women I have come across is that they have stayed in only one place. Women who aspire to get to the top will have to first of all mentally reconcile that they have to give high priority to their career. They will have to move out and undertake challenging responsibilities.
Do women need mentors?
Many of the women at CMD levels today rose to their positions because some mentors took interest in them and groomed them. Mentoring contributes 50 per cent to a woman’s development and the other 50 per cent is her own talent. These outstanding women were extremely hard-working and they took up challenges of different kinds:
Most women in banks today have no one to guide them or mentor them and after a certain level, they definitely need mentors. Banks must have transparent policies where women can make choices and communicate their aspirations.
A coach or a guide can help them make important decisions like on a transfer or taking up a role with bigger responsibility. Mentoring and diversity policy are very much necessary in a bank/financial institution and these should not remain as well intentioned statements. Instead, we should nurture the pipeline of women executives. Work wise, people still feel that the healthy working environment in the public sector provides safety and security for women.
Women leaders of today should take effective steps to ensure that the pipeline exists and mentors are in place to create more women leaders. Without being political about it, I think they should seriously promote diversity issues in their banks.
What other sectors can learn from BFSI
Finance has been a male bastion and women have traditionally not been there at the top levels. There is a huge potential in them and they are proving that increasingly. Women are as competent as men. They will make up 1/3rd of the top management in banks in five to 10 years at the level of general managers and above. Don’t forget, there are 25 PSBs and only three or four of them have women at the top!
The journey has begun, but we have miles to go.
Dr Anil Khandelwal is the former chairman and managing director of Bank of Baroda and was also the chairman of the Khandelwal Committee, which was appointed by the government in 2010 to look into HR issues of PSBs.