Too few women on top at public sector banks

Too few women on top at public sector banks
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First Published: Mon, Jun 11 2007. 12 28 AM IST
Updated: Mon, Jun 11 2007. 12 28 AM IST
Only two women have risen to the top position in state-run banks in the 37 years since they were nationalized, said a PTI news report last week, quoting a government official responding to a question asked by a Delhi-based activist under the Right to Information Act.
Indeed, the industry took 31 years since nationalization to get its first woman CEO when Ranjana Kumar took over the reins at the Chennai-based Indian Bank in May 2000. The second woman chairperson, H.A. Daruwalla, reached the top in 2005 at the Mumbai-based Central Bank of India. The state-run banking industry consists of 19 banks that were in the private sector, but brought under government control in phases beginning July 1969. And the State Bank of India (SBI) and its seven associate banks.
SBI, which is celebrating 200 years of existence, has not seen any woman CEO as yet. It has two women deputy managing directors—Ritu Anand, its chief economist, and Bharati Rao, its chief credit officer. SBI has about half a dozen-odd women chief general managers and general managers in a pack of the 129 forming the top management tier directly below the deputy managing directors.
Once Daruwalla retires, there won’t be any woman CEO in public sector banks for the next few years as not too many women hold senior positions in the industry. Sunanda Lahiri, an executive director of the Kolkata-based United Bank of India (UBI), won’t reach the top as she doesn’t have too many years of service left before retirement.
Out of 2.18 lakh bank officers, only 5.6% are women. But women’s representation goes up to 21% when it comes to the clerical cadre. Overall, women account for 14% of 7.71 lakh state-run bank employees. The data is two years old, but there has not been much change since then. UBI, which boasts of the lone woman executive director in the industry, has the least women employees of all banks—8%. The highest women representation is at State Bank of Travancore, 29%, followed by the Managalore-based Corporation Bank, 25%.
While it took 31 years since nationalization for a woman professional to run a commercial bank, it was a 68-year-long wait for a woman to reach the deputy governor’s post in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The central bank traditionally has one governor and three-four deputy governors to formulate monetary policy and run the banking system. RBI’s first woman deputy governor, Kishori J. Udeshi, took over in June 2003. Now, of course, two of its four deputy governors are women—Usha Thorat and Shyamla Gopinath.
If these statistics give you an impression that banking is not a woman’s cup of tea, take a look at the private sector. ICICI Bank Ltd, India’s second largest bank, has about 33% women employees and at the senior level, this ratio goes up to 40%. The bank’s board has two women directors—deputy managing director Chanda Kochhar and an executive director Madhavi Puri Buch. Kalpana Morparia, a board member till last month, now heads the group’s new holding company that owns the insurance and asset management business. Shikha Sharma heads the group’s life insurance business and Renuka Ramnath, the venture capital wing.
Elsewhere, Renu S. Karnad formulates home loan policies for Housing Development Finance Corp., India’s premier mortgage firm, as its executive director, and Falguni Nayar and Shanti Ekambaram run important businesses at Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd. Naina Lal Kidwai heads the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.’s Indian business.
So, the adage about women not being able to count money is a fallacy. It’s public sector banking culture that comes in the way of a woman banker’s growth. Udeshi blames the transfer policy. “They don’t want to go villages because their children can’t get proper education there,” she says. Typically, a bank officer needs to works at least at 10 different places including a mandatory rural posting to move up the hierarchy. In the absence of a support system, women officers sacrifice their career to look after their family and children.
This is not the case with a private sector bank such as ICICI Bank where executives don’t require a three-year posting at a remote Bihar village to understand the nuances of rural banking. “At ICICI Bank, a job needs to be done at a given time, but nobody questions the ‘hows’, ‘wheres’ and ‘whys’,” says Buch, referring to the flexibility of the system. So, a new mother can choose to work from home at midnight when the baby is sleeping. A public sector bank doesn’t offer this flexibility to a woman officer even when she is many times better than her male counterpart. Standard Chartered Bank, the largest foreign bank operating in India, has recently appointed an ombudswoman to address grievances of women employees. It’s also setting up crèches for employees’ children, beginning next month in Bangalore.
Bank of Baroda CEO A.K. Khandelwal, who has done his doctoral thesis on human resources and industrial relations, says things are changing and women are coming forward. M.V. Nair, who heads Union Bank, also sounds optimistic on women’s role in banking. But K.C. Chakrabarty, CEO of Punjab National Bank, feels till such time we get used the concept of “house husband”, women will continue to find it difficult to reach the top in public sector banking.
The state-run financial sector got its first woman CEO in 1996 when Tarjani Vakil became the chairperson of Export-Import Bank of India. Unfortunately, things have not changed since then. While Chakrabarty calls for a change in social mores, it’s high time the industry built a support system for women to flourish in the business of finance.
(Tamal Bandyopadhyay keeps a close eye on all things banking from his perch as the Mumbai Bureau Chief of Mint. Please email comments to
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First Published: Mon, Jun 11 2007. 12 28 AM IST
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