Breaking Down The Glass Ceiling

For the last two decades, India saw a lot of women grabbing the top financial jobs. But, after Arundhati Bhattacharya, Vani Kola or Roopa Kudva, we are awaiting the next set of torch bearer of this elite league.

Admitting the void, industry stakeholders pointed out it is mainly attributed to less number of women in senior levels. But the silver lining is that a section of mid-level women are gearing up for the top jobs.

Radhika Gupta, CEO, Edelweiss AMC, agreed that the number of women in the banking and financial services industry today is limited, more so in the leadership roles. Although, there are few exceptions. “The primary reason there is a void is largely because the industry does not have women on the mid and senior levels, or at least not enough of them who can take on these senior roles,” she said.

Ruchira Bhardwaja, Chief Human Resources Officer, Future Generali India Life Insurance Company, said the fact remains that the number of women occupying top positions in the sector continues to be disproportionately low.

As a matter of fact, after breaking the glass ceiling and making a place for themselves in the financial sector, these women have now moved on to stronger and more empowered roles within the sector.

“In addition to helming leading private and public banks, women are now also taking on leadership roles in asset management companies, venture capital and private equity firms,” Yatin Shah, CoFounder and Executive Director, IIFL Investment Managers added. He said senior women professionals are also members of various boards and continue to exercise influence not only in the financial sector, but in others as well.

As compared to the earlier generations, now women are more willing to make a career in finance. Vidya Bala, Head - Mutual Fund Research, Fundslndia, said, “The influx of many MNCs in the finance and investment banking field has offered good opportunities for women without having to compromise on their quality of life. So, women in the middle are certainly more prepared and willing today to take on larger roles.” Industry experts explained there are many strong women leaders who are capable of leading their respective companies.

Gupta feels women who hold the middle ranks today are ready to make a transition towards the senior ranks. What they need is a push towards the right direction, mentorship and critical responsibilities to prepare them for these roles. They need people to believe and give them these opportunities, and most importantly they need to believe in themselves that they are ready to take up any challenge that comes their way.

Adding to this, Shah said, “Maybe a decade back, you would see a few women in senior positions and a few more at a junior level. Admittedly, many women dropped out of the workforce in mid-career to attend to family or parenting needs. However, things are now rapidly changing. More and more women are making the choice to pursue their career, which means that an even larger number of women are getting groomed for senior management positions.”

Zohra Merchant, Managing Partner - Private Client Group, WGC Wealth, observed there are organisations that do coach and mentor women at the mid-level so that they can lead at the senior level. “Organisations do understand that lack of senior level diversity is not effective for business as it impacts employee morale and is also bad for customer service and shareholder returns. Business decisions, when taken collectively by a diverse set of people with diverse experience and viewpoints, is always more successful.” Hence, proper training for mid level women leaders is crucial.

Bhardwaja said, structurally, management and board of organisations would be required to have a continued and active focus to identify women who have the ambition and tenacity to make it big. "They must not only head-hunt to infuse talent from outside but also establish proactive systems to identify potential leaders from within the company in the middle ranks. Next, there needs to be a concerted approach to educate, coach and mentor these women to take on higher roles on a continuous basis. The bedrock to this approach would be to have a target and sponsorship of key leaders in the company,” she said.

Corporate India should have more programmes to train leaders, said Bala, adding to that she said, “Also, good work culture and flexibility in cases of need can go a long way in attracting and retaining women. Above all, the organisation needs to give a sense of gender equality at workplace. Recognising and respecting the 'person rather than the gender is the key to encouraging women for top jobs.”

Indian companies need to embrace more women in the workplace - and this needs to be done on priority. “A healthy eco-system and a supportive environment - not just during maternity, but in the day-to-day dynamics of workplace is something that needs to be inculcated in our work culture actively. A culture that encourages diversity of thinking and views, mentorship and proactively providing opportunities, and support during critical times of their careers to make sure women can make it to the top,” concluded Gupta.

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