Employment of women in India’s banking sector

women working in bank India’s banking sector has witnessed explosive growth and expansion ever since the era of economic reforms was launched nearly two decades ago. That growth has also created new windows of opportunity for women to find employment in the banking sector.

In fact, the nationalization of the Indian banking sector in 1969 served as the first major step to reduce gender discrimination against women in banking jobs (1). However, the general pattern of women’s employment in this sector has shown that there has been a sort of persistent invisible glass ceiling against women acquiring the top management positions in banking.

With the opening up of banking to the private sector in India, there is a new hope that more employment transparency and purely merit-based job opportunities will get a boost in this sector. This change is already becoming visible in the large foreign banks in India (2). A source from Citibank points out that in 1970, women comprised only 5% of the bank’s total workforce. But by the 1990’s, women occupied a majority of clerical and computer programming jobs at Citibank. The officials at Banque Nationale de Paris in India also corroborate this trend.

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) India, also encourages a high recruitment rate for women. Sources say that the bank believes women tend to put in greater effort in their work, and many times, are better qualified to perform the job than their men counterparts. Fortune magazine in 2005 ranked HSBC among the top 50 employers for women and minorities worldwide. (3)

The general perception of the private sector bank recruiters appears to be that women are more diligent towards their duty, and have a much smaller incidence of being involved in corrupt and fraudulent activities against the interests of the bank. However, at the same time, another perception stereotype that goes against women rising to higher management positions in banking seems to be that women are not so ambitious as men, and largely have a clerical working mindset.

Women who are looking to strike a better balance between work and familial responsibilities tend to prefer jobs in the banking sector. Banking jobs are perceived to provide a better stability, lesser travel, regular working hours, and a secure work environment, unlike many field jobs.
Although for top management banking positions, the wind still appears to blow strongly in the favour of men in terms of sheer numbers. But there are shining examples like Naina Lal Kidwai of the HSBC, Manisha Girotra of the Swiss Bank UBS in India, and Chanda Kochhar of the ICICI Bank, who have made it to the very top in Indian banking. (4)

The new employment mantra for the banking organizations as well as for the women aspiring to reach the top in India’s banking sector is perhaps best summed up in the words of Chanda Kochhar:

“While many women have moved forward in ICICI, they have done so because they have worked as hard and as many long hours as men have. That's the way going forward. Organizations should look at merit and not discriminate based on gender. Similarly, women should not expect any special advantages or favors. If they want to grow, they have to put in the hard work and the hours and the travel that's required.” (5)


- Vikas Vij (views expressed in the article are that of the author)


(1) Women in Bank Unions: The Breaking of a Male Bastion http://www.labourfile.org/ArticleMore.aspx?id=944

(2) Nageswara Rao, Katuri, 2007 Indian Commercial Banking : The New Dynamics ICFAI Univ. Press, Hyderabad

(3) http://www.careerbuilder.com/Jobs/Company/C50T66NBXBVK0JH7R5/HSBC/

(4) “The Power list in retrospect” Business Today, October 2, 2008

(5) Interview given to Knowledge@Wharton Network, a global publication of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, published on Feb. 6, 2008. http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/india/article.cfm?articleid=4257