NOV 23, 2003
 Cover Story
 Personal Finance
 Back of the Book

Motherhood In

Motherhood appeals in Indian advertising were once assumed not to change very much. Well, guess what?

Universal Advertising
So, which shall it be for the Indian market—universally watchable or culture-specific ads? The debate.

More Net Specials
Business Today,  November 9, 2003
We created a work environment that was women-friendly
I am proud that we in ICICI bank have so many talented people of which many happen to be women. But I would have serious issues if you used this to arrive at the conclusion that women have contributed to the organisation's growth. Actually, it is talented people, men and women, who have done so. This is a subtle distinction. So, 12 of the 20 top people at ICICI Bank may be women, but they have risen to their positions not because they are women, but because they are talented.

There are more women at ICICI Bank because we didn't have a gender bias; we decided to recruit talent, we didn't care whether it was a man or a woman. And we had a group of managers and managing directors that was gender-neutral. It wasn't easy being neutral. In a male-dominated society like ours you are accused of being pro-woman for being neutral, but that didn't bother me. Then, we added caveats. Women have child-bearing responsibilities, so we decided to be liberal and give them more than the mandatory three months maternity leave. Women also have additional responsibilities of nurturing children. If someone wanted eight to ten months off, it was to be sanctioned. We created a working environment that was women-friendly.

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Over the years, we have predominantly recruited management students. When fresh (women) MBAs had to make a choice between, say, HLL and ICICI, they would check with their friends (also women) from earlier batches who were with ICICI, and decide in its favour. First, a few women MBAs walked in; then, others followed. If you have a critical mass of women working for you, there is a ground swell. Maybe they felt there was security in numbers, maybe it was the working environment, or maybe it was the attitude of the management-one thing reinforces another.

Several women have reached senior positions in ICICI Bank because they demonstrated loyalty to the organisation. In the early nineties, when the reforms process began, we faced a huge problem of employee turnover. When I studied the phenomenon, I found that more men than women left ICICI. And if at all women left, it was rarely because of a new job. The loyalty factor is strong in women. Whether they tend to be less adventurous, or whether it is because of safety and security considerations is a matter of speculation, but women are basically sentimental people.

Do women bring an edge to the organisation? I honestly don't think so. I have never found much of a difference between a man and a woman of the same calibre, although we may be passing through a cycle where women tend to show higher levels of brilliance. This may seem a rash observation, but it is true: across India, in schools and universities it is women who are topping their classes. Ten years ago, I firmly believed that women were less likely to be unethical than men. That could have been because I hadn't encountered too many women perpetrating frauds. I don't subscribe to that notion anymore. I now believe a certain proportion of the human race tends to be unethical, and that this is irrespective of gender. Nor do I believe like some people do that having women in senior positions helps (or hinders, as the case may be) the cause of other women.

However, if companies are able to somehow leverage the facts that we are passing through a phase where women are doing better than men at schools and colleges, and that women make more loyal employees, we could soon see an increase in the number of women at the workplace.