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The Rising Glory of Women in Financial Markets

Back in the late 1980s high profile women in financial markets were few and far between. There was Tarjani Vakil at Exim Bank or Lalita Gupte at ICICI. But things changed post liberalization in the early 1990s. With better regulation of financial markets and more transparency, the financial markets no longer remained an “Old Boys” club. Breaching the glass ceiling was still some time away but the shift had gradually begun. Just a couple of years back, some of the largest banks in India like SBI, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, PNB and JP Morgan were all headed by women. Let us look at how women began to play a sterling role in the financial markets in India.

How the role of women in Indian financial markets evolved?

In a way, the shift started off in the 1980s when women started seriously pursuing career goals. Education was not just limited to graduation or a very benign post-graduation in the arts. It was a lot more. Young girls were willing to rough it out as engineers on the shop floor and also burn the midnight oil to get into prestigious management institutions. As the number of education institutions proliferated, they began to churn out more finance professionals and more women began to enter financial markets.

All this would not have been possible without the best practices that India imbibed from the global companies. When the financial markets opened up in 1992, along came a host of foreign players with their global best practices and their focus on equal opportunity in employment. Indian companies had no choice but to make the workplace more democratic and that combined with better education opportunities opened the doors for women. Financial markets took the lead because as global best practices were most visible here.

Women in financial markets are actually making a difference

The World Economic Forum Report highlighted five important things about women in the financial world:

  • Gender gap is a challenge and an opportunity

  • Finance is more than money; it is about making a difference

  • Financial professionals never stop learning

  • Women are changing the status quo of financial markets

  • Financial markets will remain one of the best places for women

How are Indian women professionals making a difference in financial markets? Here are some classic examples:

  1. We have seen scores of women making a major contribution as the CEOs of banks and the list includes Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma.

  2. There have been women who have kept a lower profile like Shanti Ekambaram of Kotak and Renu Karnad of HDFC, who have also played equally stellar roles in cementing their organizations in the world of finance.

  3. It is not just about financial services but women have played a critical role in financial market regulation too. The role of Shyamala Gopinath and Usha Thorat at RBI is well known. Professionals like Usha Narayanan and Madhabi Puri Buch played a key role in the evolution of financial regulation at SEBI.

  4. Interestingly, the emerging area of venture finance and private equity has some real super-performing women like Vani Kola, Meena Ganesh, Renuka Ramnath and Roopa Kudwa.

  5. Let us not forget the women who made a mark in the corporate world. The successes of women like Vinita Bali of Britannia, Nishi Vasudeva of HPCL, Vinita Gupta of Lupin, Roshni Nadar of HCL Tech and Ekta Kapoor are well documented. 

Of course, the story “Femmes in Finance” will be incomplete without the graceful women who put India on the global map. If Indira Nooyi of Pepsi and Gita Gopinath of IMF are the most high profile names, there are scores of Indian women who have made a mark globally. From Padmasree Warrier in Silicon Valley to Alka Banerjee of S&P to Ranji Nagaswami of AllianceBerstein; each of them have worked to enhance the profile of Indian women in financial markets. May their tribe increase!

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