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    Beyond mere lip-service

    Lack of gender equity is a colossal loss for firms

    - By Kamlesh D Rao, MD & CEO, Kotak Securities

    Let me start with a question: If tomorrow, your company’s head announced that your business division was winding down—completely, not just downsizing or firing a few people; who all would you be worried about? The employees, right? After all, the company is shutting down!

    Here’s another perspective: What about the customers?

    Many years back, I was working in one of Kotak’s consumer durables businesses. When it came time to discontinue the business, some of the women in my team came up with a brilliant idea of sitting with the customers and understanding their needs.

    Some of our customers already had a pre-approved loan with a certain limit. The customers still had limits along with the need for the money.

    This meant one thing: We still had a business of borrowing and lending money!

    And that, dear friends, is how Kotak’s unsecured loan business started. It ended up becoming one of the most profitable businesses in Kotak Group. Plus, we could figure out the skills needed for this new business, and then retained the employees who fit the bill. With one stone, they hit two birds! (Or in today’s millennial and vegan parlance—clicked two selfies in one image.)
    For that, we had the Emotional Quotient or EQ of those women to thank for. They did not just think about themselves, but had the emotional maturity to step into the shoes of the customers; think outside in and acted accordingly. I’ve seen this in more women than I have in men—those with the Y chromosome, for some reason, think inside out. Their thoughts and ideas usually come first—often before the customers’ too.

    This is but one such story. In my many decades of experience, I’ve come across many women who’ve taught me valuable lessons in emotional intelligence. Women naturally have more sensitivity, empathy and the ability to think of common sense. All of these are extremely important for a business to succeed. And it is this EQ component that makes women extremely valuable to a firm—their lack of presence is a genuine loss for the firm. It’s not just about bringing diversity to the workplace.
    Here’s another example. When I was in the Priority banking business—Kotak Privy League, I met a customer in Delhi, very rich, living in a plush bungalow. I had gone to meet the customer with the relationship manager (RM).

    She and I had a brief meeting with the customer, during which time I was witness to beautiful instances. Our RM—and I won’t call her the lady RM because I don’t want to distinguish just by her gender—knew the entire family, much beyond the call of her duty. She was warm and genuinely familial. So much so that the homemaker insisted that our RM stay for lunch. Even the family’s dog wanted our RM’s attention, playing with her throughout the duration of our stay.
    It was simple: They trusted her.

    After the visit, I asked her: How easy is it to get the trust of the family, and to become so familiar with them?

    What she said after has stayed with me this whole time. She told me, “in our business, most of these wealthy clients think we are just snooping on their bank statements. We swoop down to visit them after a particularly large credit or at times when we think they may have money. The truth is, it’s not about them as people, but just about their money.

    I wanted it to be about our customer. His entire family. With such levels of relationships, the money stops being the centre of focus. That’s how they decided to trust me. It is such instances that can make sure the customer does not move away from us.”

    The family—it turned out—trusted her so much that they would call her for advice or second opinion even for non-Kotak money matters.
    Empathy. That’s what it took for her to further her business goals.

    Yet, the sad part is that more and more women drop off the workforce as we climb the ranks. In fact, a World Bank data had suggested that at the entry or junior levels, there are as many women as men. Even in the middle management, the diversity levels are still healthy(ish) despite higher drop-offs. But very few reach the senior management levels.

    The drop offs are serious and very unhealthy. Yet, it’s entirely realistic. After all, that’s when the woman has started her family and is raising children. They have such large responsibilities. It can be daunting to balance both work and family without support.

    This is what we need to change.

    Family is important. Undoubtedly. Instead of avoiding hiring women because they will “one day leave to get married and raise kids”, we need to create a system of support. In the long-term, both the firm and the system will be better off for the small efforts we take in getting her back into the workforce. The value she brings to the table is critical.

    This is important for another reason too—the children she raises must see that marriage is between two equals. Responsibilities have to be shared. If the children only see her making compromises, they will grow up to be individuals who will always put men before women. It will then result in compromises being made by future generations too.

    No, it cannot do. This HAS to change.

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