Friday, May 06, 2005

Hi-fi(nance) women

The much reviled Economic Times did a story today on women who have made it big in the field of finance. If the number of such high-flying women is small, they are role models and change catalysts; if their number is large, such concepts as role models are not needed. I hope the women covered in this story represent a situation in the latter category. I know for a fact that Indian academia still has a long way to go to make role models irrelevant -- particularly in the sciences (except perhaps biology and medicine).

Here's an extract from yesterday's NYTimes story about Dr. Susan Hockfield, the MIT President-elect:

One of her first major public acts as president was to respond to a suggestion, by Harvard's president, Dr. Lawrence H. Summers, that one reason for the relative dearth of women at the upper ranks of science might be an innate lesser ability.

"Marie Curie exploded that myth," Dr. Hockfield and two other university presidents, Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman of Princeton and Dr. John L. Hennessy of Stanford, wrote in an essay that appeared on the op-ed page of The Boston Globe. But women need "teachers who believe in them," they went on, and low expectations of women "can be as destructive as overt discrimination."

One thing that came through loud and clear from the ET story is the great stature enjoyed by ICICI Bank for its ability to nurture women executives. This company has Lalita Gupte, Kalpana Morparia, Chanda Kochhar and Renuka Ramnath occupying key -- and high -- positions.

All I can say is, "Way to go!"

Update: The ET story presents other information that are also a cause for celebration: diversity. In the educational backgrounds of these five high-achieving women, you find a very interesting diversity beyond the usual (and boring!) IITs or IIM-A,B and C:

  • Nithya Easwaran: VJTI (Electronics) and IIM-Lucknow.
  • Sutapa Banerjee: Econ from Presidency (Kolkata?) and XLRI.
  • Manisha Girtra: St. Stephen's and Delhi School of Economics
  • Ashu Suyash: Commerce degree from Bombay Univ. and CA
  • and, finally, Natasha Patel, who has a Ph.D. in French literature from none other than the Sorbonne!


  1. Anonymous said...

    Interesting post.

    I think the reality on the ground is that we are still only in the stage where the concept of women in finance is still very relevant and even role models are rare. Sure, you can pick up some high flyers and say there are several high priestesses in Finance and it will be true. But, if you also look at the number of men in corresponding positions, the % of women is just too small. I only have heresay abt finance in India, but elsewhere (and I here this from my colleagues in India too) that the % at the senior management level is really small. I think this is changing slowly - hopefully we will soon graduate to the stage where we dont need role models any more - it will be the norm.

    I think the reason for low diversity in Finance is that sometimes you need strong academic fundamentals to do the job, esp if you are in the quant roles - definitely not a necessity, but it sure helps. So that emphasis is not gonna change too much too soon I think, though I certainly hope it will.