Millennium Post

Govt banks set to be all-boys club

Barely three months ago, there were as many as five women heading PSBs. It was considered the best period for women employees in ‘sarkari banks’, those much-scorned and yet much-admired institutions. Never had as many women headed so many state-run banks at the same time. 
In October 2013, when Arundhati Bhattacharya became the first woman to head the 207-year-old State Bank of India (SBI) as its chairperson, she had joined a glorious league of women who had scaled to the very top of PSBs. Shubhalakshmi Panse was chairman and managing director (CMD) of Allahabad Bank, VR Iyer the CMD of Bank of India, and Archana Bhargava was in the same position at United Bank of India. They were soon joined by Usha Ananthasubramanian, the Punjab National Bank executive director who was appointed CMD of the newly created Bharatiya Mahila Bank (BMB), catering exclusively to the need of women’s economic empowerment.

With so many women at the top of the banking pyramid, it suddenly appeared as if the male bastion had been breached. But by the end of January, Panse had served her tenure and retired from Allahabad Bank and Archana Bhargava made an inglorious exit late-February from the Kolkata-based UBI due to mounting non-performing assets (NPAs) at the bank (it touched 10.5 percent at the end of the December quarter of 2013-14), though she cited health reasons for her resignation.

But that is only the beginning of the bad news for women in banking. For, finding the next Bhattacharyas, Panses, Iyers, Bhargavas and Ananthasubramanians – and getting back Dickens’s ‘best of times’ – could take more than a little while. At present, there is just one woman at the level of executive director (ED), Trishna Guha, of the Mumbai-headquartered Dena Bank. And it is from the level of EDs that PSBs get their top woman or man – the CMD.

After Panse’s retirement in January, the government chose Punjab National Bank’s ED Rakesh Sethi to head the Kolkata-based Allahabad Bank. In fact, for as many as four CMDs who retired in 2013-14, not a single woman replaced them. The reason is not any gender bias but simply lack of option: there was only one woman ED in PSBs, and she too became an ED only in August 2013, hardly fulfilling the criterion of serving as an ED for at least one year to be eligible for the CMD’s post.

CMDs of state-run banks are appointed from among executive directors of any PSB, with criteria of two-year residual service and having served for at least one year as an ED. There, however, have been some exceptions in the recent past. The government relaxed the appointment criteria to appoint chairman of SBI and Punjab & Sind Bank. Jatinder Bir Singh, appointed as CMD of Punjab & Sind Bank, is not a banking professional but a 1983-batch IAS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre, who worked as additional secretary in the ministry of water resources. Earlier, the government had appointed an IAS officer to head the Delhi-based bank in 2000.

More vacancies at the top will emerge soon, as the finance ministry has to select CMDs for at least six PSBs over the next few months. This list includes UBI, which is now run by two executive directors of the bank after Bhargava’s early exit. The CMD posts of Indian Overseas Bank and Bank of Baroda will be vacant in August, while heads of two other institutions – Canara Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce – will retire in October. 

V Kannan, appointed CMD of Vijaya Bank in January 2014, will retire at the start of next year. Besides, with the Bharatiya Mahila Bank on expansion mode, it is also likely to face problems putting a woman at the highest level of decision-making after Usha Ananthasubramanian’s exit. 

Accepting the problem of getting women officers at the apex, Ananthasubramanian says: ‘This problem has resulted from ill-planning from the beginning. The shortage of women in top managerial positions is because of poor diversity management at the HR level. Also, many women who got through bank jobs dropped out along the way. In order to ensure promotions of women at the top level, continuously enriching the pipeline needs to be done.’ 

After bank nationalisation in 1969, women started getting into banks in the late 1970s and early ’80s. But it was only 31 years later that PSBs got their first woman CMD, when Ranjana Kumar took over the reins at the Chennai-headquartered Indian Bank in 2000. This was when the bank was going through troubled times, and the turnaround under her stewardship is still part of the banking folklore. But even nearly a decade and a half since Ranjana Kumar reached the apex, the number of women in PSBs who have climbed the ladder all the way through is still in single digit. 

Set up by the government in 2010 to study human resource issues in banks, the Khandelwal committee found a large percentage of women working at clerical levels in PSBs, and the numbers dwindled as the hierarchical ladder went up. ‘The representation of women employees in the executive cadre is 2.66 percent, officer cadre 10.87 percent and clerical cadre 26.5 percent,’ the committee said in its report.

‘At a time when women’s empowerment is being talked about so much, this shortage (of women officers) shows the kind of difficulties women have to face at all levels in every sphere. This is a grave problem that begs immediate attention,’ Ananthasubramanian says.  

By arrangement with GovernanceNow
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