The Money – Women of India
Female Leaders in Indian Banking Sector
Neha Prasad, London 27/02/19
UCL Women in Finance Society, University College London
I was extremely lucky to have spent a large part of my gap year working as a Research Assistant in the Women’s Leadership Centre at the University of Cambridge. One of the professors I was working with was doing a lot of exciting work with Level 20 to assess various elements of gender parity in the private equity space. This got me interested in understanding the role of women in finance, especially in my home country, India. Having lived in the UK for a few years, therefore being slightly out-of-touch with the Indian economy, I was pleasantly surprised to note that there were many woman leaders in the financial sector in India, contrary to the perception that women and money don’t necessarily go together!
Leading the pack was Chanda Kochhar, the former MD and CEO of ICICI Bank, India’s second largest bank. Perhaps the most significant of her many achievements was her being the first Indian to be honoured with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Global Citizenship. She is credited with seeing ICICI through the Great Recession and making it the second largest bank in India – a great achievement indeed! As a CSR initiative, she created ICICI Digital Village, a program that provided a large number of villagers in India with vocational training and financial aid for their entrepreneurial endeavours. Another powerhouse is the former State Bank of India Chairman, Arundhati Bhattacharya. She was the first woman to reach this position in the bank’s 206 years of existence and is also the first female leader of an India based Fortune 500 Company. In addition to significantly improving the performance of SBI during her tenure as Chairman, she also spearheaded many women-friendly policies. Both these ladies featured in the Forbes List of Powerful Women in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Yet another example is that of Shikha Sharma, MD and CEO of Axis Bank, one of India’s leading banks. In this role, she is emphasising not just performance, but corporate governance and a broader sustainable agenda, earning her numerous awards and recognitions, including ‘Woman Leader of the Year’ at Bloomberg in 2012, and Forbes List of Asia’s 50 Power Business Women.
These are but a few examples, and there are many more women leaders in the banking sector in India, working to make a difference. However, a career trajectory of this level for women seems to exist primarily in the traditional banking sector, and not in areas like private equity or investment banking, where the presence of women leaders is still abysmally low. This is similar to the trend in the rest of the world.
One research conducted by the aforementioned professor aimed to ‘to identify the challenges, barriers and opportunities in addressing the gender imbalance in private equity’. The research showed that there existed multiple challenges for women to grow to senior levels in these highly aggressive and demanding sectors. Personal circumstances of women and personality biases in these sectors are just a couple of factors limiting the growth of female leaders. Hopefully, these challenges are recognised and addressed by the large firms in these sectors to enable a more gender-diverse workforce.
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