WHEN IT COMES TO DIVERSITY, banks in the U.S. have more female employees (56.3%) than male (43.7%) in its 1.9 million workforce. In comparison, women employees in Indian scheduled commercial banks make up for just 24.17% (397,005) of the 1.64 million employees.

Among private sector banks, while HDFC and ICICI top the charts as the No. 1 and a strong second, the difference between the two is glaring. If ICICI is known as a breeding ground for women talent with quite a few leaders making a mark even outside the bank, HDFC is seen as a high-performance bank but one that lags in diversity. While women comprise 31% of ICICI Bank’s 105,844 employees (including contractual staff), for HDFC Bank the number is 22.02% (37,168) of its 168,760 workforce as of March 31, 2022. Of the 23 senior management team, including MD & CEO Sashidhar Jagdishan, there are just two women group heads, Smita Bhagat, and Ashima Bhat.

But a subtle and definitive shift is underway.

Vinay Razdan, who spearheads the human resources function at the bank, is pivoting the change. “When I joined four-and-a-half years back, it (women participation) was at 18% and declining,” says the former Idea Cellular chief CHRO. There was very high attrition among women employees who came back to work after a maternity break. To stem the exits, the bank framed a policy, which among other things, also ensured that top-rated women employees did not lose out on their ratings owing to the maternity break and impeded their promotion prospects. In short, the rating of women employees before the maternity break would be considered even after the break. Among other changes, flexibility of working from home besides sensitising managers led to a decline in exits among returning mothers.

Today, the culture within the organisation is much more sensitive and inclusive. “The biggest task that Sashi has given is that he wants 50% of the organisation to be women,” says Razdan.

While the CEO would like the number as of yesterday, delivering on that is a big challenge. “We are working in that direction. But it will take time because it’s a function of demographics. It’s not a function of aggression and how intent you are, because it also boils down to resources that are available and how many fit the role,” says Razdan.

To augment the pipeline of women leaders at middle-management levels and create a future ready pipeline for women in decision-making roles, the bank has designed a career accelerator programme. It ran its first batch this year and has moved 60% of the participants into decision-making roles. “Around 120 high-performing, high-potential women employees have been through this programme. We also have a mentoring programme where we have attached some of them to senior leaders,” says Razdan.

Currently, the bank has 26 C and an operations centre in Kalol, Gujarat, which is manned by 105 women. As part of the agenda to deep-dive into what impacts engagement levels and career growth for women employees, the bank has conducted future group discussions (FGDs) with a cross-section of employees. The objective is to get structured feedback and insights from employees about what is working well and areas of improvement. As part of this process, 16 pan-India FGDs have been completed covering more than 530-plus women employees. Based on the inputs received, a detailed action plan will be carved out.

“Working simultaneously on talent acquisition and retention, we have adopted a gender diversity target to raise the representation of women in our workforce to 25% by FY25, and create a workplace which offers equal remuneration opportunities,” says Razdan.

The second important pillar of the bank’s inclusive agenda involves the specially-abled. “From not knowing how many people with disabilities we had in the system, today we know the number (and want to progress on that aspect),” says Razdan. While the current percentage of specially-abled employees is at a low 0.12%, the bank wants to raise it to 5% by 2025.

Amid a growing chorus of adopting a more friendly LGBTQ+ workplace across India Inc., the bank does not have specific rules on such employees. Razdan believes the bank is more pragmatic about the issue. “Aren’t you a more enlightened employer where you are not even asking about anyone’s orientation and, instead, saying it doesn’t matter to me as long as the job is being done? For us, diversity is inclusive in the true sense and not exclusive,” says Razdan.

But the big event that is slated during the year is the formal merger of HDFC with the bank. Though expected by July, Razdan does not see it as a humongous challenge, “We are a 170,000 people team and HDFC would not be more than 4,000. While we are looking forward, at this point it would be difficult to comment on the people structure till the merger is complete,” he says.

But what’s clear is that the new behemoth, with a combined balance sheet of ₹17.87 lakh crore, will continue to lay emphasis on employee performance. “Performance orientation is a given, and you cannot compromise on that. Because, ultimately, a great people organisation should commercially deliver superior results. Isn’t that the whole theory around employee engagement?” sums up Razdan.

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