|"It is INTELLECT and the ability to
deliver that determine your career growth at ICICI."
|"Each time OPPORTUNITIES were thrown
up, ICICI has looked for the right person for the job."
|"Non-transferability has played a ROLE
in retaining and nurturing female talent."
ICICI Home Fin. & Web Trade
haven't had much luck lining up appointments for this article on
ICICI. Joint managing Director Lalita Gupte is in New York; ICICI-Pru
Life CEO Shikha Sharma in London; and Ramani Nirula, Senior General
Manager, somewhere in Vietnam-all on work. That means I'll have
to start this article with some numbers-three of the seven members
on the executive management at the Board level of ICICI Bank (the
merged entity) are women, Lalita Gupte, Kalpana Morparia, and Chanda
Kochhar-and some good humoured carping by the few male ICICI execs
I met. Such as the one who said he rarely lets his female colleagues
ahead of him in the queue at the luncheon buffet that accompanies
brainstorming sessions or training seminars (they do lots of both
at ICICI). ''If you wait for the ladies, you will wait for ever.''
Such tongue-firmly-in-cheek cavilling aside, ICICI is a gender-neutral
organisation. Apart from the three on the board, there are five
women among the 22 executives who constitute ICICI's senior management.
In all, around 33 per cent of all employees are women. That's a
whole universe away from the proportion of women execs at the best
company to work for in India according to this year's survey, Infosys
(17 per cent). It is also higher than the number of women managers
at Hindustan Lever Ltd (180, out of a total of 1,480). True, women
have traditionally preferred services companies-especially financial
services ones-over manufacturing, marketing, and infotech ones.
Still, 33 per cent is right up there.
My luck seems to have changed: I meet with
Executive Director Kalpana Morparia a day before she is to travel
to Singapore. She joined ICICI as a senior assistant 26 years ago,
and says she never felt the need to move. ''It is your intellect
and ability to deliver that are the determining factors for career-growth
at ICICI.'' Morparia's views are echoed by Executive Director Chanda
Kochhar who is vehement in her opinion that ICICI is a ''true equal-opportunities
employer''. ''The company's growth has thrown up new opportunities,
and each time, the organisation has looked for the right person
for the job.''
If ICICI (and I use that monicker loosely,
to refer to all its divisions, subsidiaries, and joint ventures)
is a meritocracy, then some credit for that should go to the man
who started the trend, N. Vaghul, and the one who institutionalised
it, K.V. Kamath. This approach has largely been gender neutral.
That means women aren't given special privileges and there isn't
a quota that needs to be filled with respect to the number of women
hired or promoted. Explains Renuka Ramnath, CEO, ICICI Ventures:
''If I have the willingness and the management believes I have the
competence, then the job is mine.''
So, if ICICI doesn't have a target for the
number of women it needs to hire each year-statistics show that
the company hires between 6-7 men for every 3-4 women it recruits,
just about enough to keep the 33:67 sex ratio intact-what can explain
the preponderance of women at senior levels? The first, according
to Madhabi Puri-Buch, CEO, ICICI Home Finance and ICICI Web Trade,
is ''non-transferability, which has played a role in retaining and
nurturing female-talent''. Then, there was (and is) ICICI's ability
to take trainees and turn them into superior finance pros. That
created a corpus of talented men and women. The former, explains
one ICICI employee, moved on as the company's salaries used to be
much lower than those on offer from foreign banks. ''The women stayed
back, making a trade-off between higher salaries and stability.''
WOMEN ON TOP
Joint Managing Director
CEO, ICICI-Prudential Life Insurance
Senior General Manager
CEO, ICICI Home Finance and ICICI Web Trade
GM and CEO, ICICI Ventures
GM (Corporate Accounts)
The rest went according to the rules of natural
selection as applicable to a meritocracy: a large number of ICICI's
male executives left (some did make the trade-off between money
and job-content and stayed back-they can be found scattered among
ICICI's senior management). The women stayed back, and they quickly
rose to the top.
Then, there are the small things the organisation
does to make its people, both men and women, comfortable working
for it. Intense partying, a way-of-life at most financial services
companies, is neither encouraged nor discouraged at ICICI. Employees
who have to catch up with work on Saturdays can bring their children
in to the kids club. Mothers-to-be are taken off mission-critical
projects and, if they so desire, transferred to their location of
choice if they wish to be closer to their parents.
By now, I am convinced my luck has changed.
Lalita Gupte, ICICI's Joint Managing Director, is back from New
York and has her own take on things. ''It is not just a place that
provides equal opportunity; it also mentors women who need to make
a choice between career and home." Gupte herself received some
mentoring-from then Executive Director, S.S. Nadkarni, when she
was going through a difficult pregnancy and was considering quitting.
Can the organisation retain this flexibility
as it grows bigger? Most women managers think so, and as one of
them, Kochhar, puts it, the company shouldn't have a problem as
long as women continue to take on more responsibilities, like they
have. ''We haven't worked any less.''