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Empowering Change with Women Leading the Charge in BFSI Innovation: In Conversation with Nina Nagpal

The role of women in the Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance (BFSI) sector is undergoing a transformative shift, with an increasing number of women poised to ascend to leadership positions within the industry. A report from Deloitte found that globally, the proportion of women in leadership roles within banking and financial services has risen to 24% with projections for this to rise to 28% by 2030. This evolution signifies a crucial step towards inclusive innovation, as it addresses the distinct financial needs and challenges faced by women.

As more women assume leadership roles, the BFSI sector is better equipped to develop innovative solutions that cater to a diverse range of clients, ensuring equitable access to financial services and fostering greater financial empowerment for all. In this regard Mansi Gupta, ObserveNow interacted with Nina Nagpal, Board Director, Bank of Baroda & Governance Advisor. Here is the edited excerpt: 

How do you see the role of women evolving in the BFSI sector, and what initiatives do you believe are essential for empowering more women to take on leadership positions within the industry?

Fortunately, the BFSI sector – both currently and in the past – has had several women in leadership roles. Statistically, the numbers suggest that the corporate pipeline – including BFSI – leading from middle to senior management is not robust. Actually, it is seen to be decreasing. This should worry us.

Retention of women in the workplace, therefore, is the crux here.

As for empowerment, and this holds good for men and women, my experience tells me that while organizations empower us with titles, positions, and grades, we are also instrumental in empowering ourselves. Once we feel empowered within, minus any self-doubt, our ability to deliver is enhanced manifold.

As technology continues to reshape the BFSI landscape, how can the industry ensure that innovation is inclusive and addresses the unique financial needs and challenges faced by women?

Yes, this is a very pertinent question. What we do see around is the continuing expansion of the digital landscape, technology becoming intrinsic to our way of doing business and Artificial Intelligence (AI) becoming ubiquitous. The workplace is changing and probably irreversibly.

In this context, first, the industry will need to visualize the shape and contours of human resources structure that would be ideal as technology intensity of our work place multiplies. Second, a thoughtful approach towards the necessary role and place that women will and should have in this structure. This would be critical because a workplace with a minority women workforce will not deliver up to potential. 

On our part, women will need to think this through carefully as well in terms of the academic and work paths they choose. Staying relevant and growing with the pace of the business and organization will need to be a driver for women. The challenges of the many dimensioned roles and responsibilities that women have will stay. So even with the relatively more onerous obligations that women have, our stronger will help. 

Responsible Finance so far includes missions relating to environment, clients, transparent and ethical business and the like. It will need to include women as part of this agenda.

Women’s financial inclusion has been a growing concern. How can the BFSI sector play a pivotal role in ensuring that women from all walks of life have access to and benefit from financial services, thereby promoting economic empowerment?

I agree that financial inclusion of women is very important. But to make any visible difference to the status of women and for financial inclusion to be genuine and meaningful, women will need to be in control of their finances. Basis secondary data that I accessed, women having bank accounts in India has gone up 53% in 2015-16 to 79% now. But the access to credit is low.

The co-operatives and the Micro Finance institutions are showing impressive outcome. Personally, I have seen how empowering the women’s co-operatives have been in parts of Bihar. As for Microfinance Institutions, in 2023 alone they have added ~80 lacs new women clients.

The inclusion has to be ground up from the wide base and upwards. Microfinance lending and co-operatives are powerful tools to financial inclusion and of course the PM Jan Dhan Yojana.

In your opinion, how can the BFSI industry foster a culture of advocacy and mentorship to encourage more women to pursue leadership roles, and what positive outcomes do you anticipate for the industry by promoting greater gender diversity at the top?

In all fairness, most large BFSI organizations have a culture and practice of mentoring, training and ensuring that any senior hire slate has women candidates. But in all candidness, aiming and being at the top is never an easy kill. There may be cultural nuances in organizations as well that are subtle that women need to deal with. So challenging as it may be, especially at senior levels, women do need to rely on their networks and their convictions as they pitch for the top spots. 

Tags: BFSI