Women Risk Managers and Power Games

Be it known that we, the greatest, are misthought.” By Cleopatra

Recent issue of Business Today magazine named the womanpower in corporate India. My favorite corporate queens were as usual amongst the top – ICICI Bank CEO- Chanda Kochar, Axis Bank CEO- Shikha Sharma and HDFC Executive Director – Renu Sud Karnad. Their success in the financial field is inspiring and one has to meet them to understand their acumen. However, the magazine article – “The Most Powerful Women in Indian Business” started with the following line:

“For generations, the choice between domestic idyll and a career has been the unique dilemma of women”

Yawn!  Uncreative journalists typecast even the most successful women.

Men don’t suffer the same fate. During my teens, my father was a single dad and a Chief Engineer. Dad would have beaten the life out of the person who dared to suggest that he couldn’t do both efficiently. (Psst, I did overhear dad sometimes exasperatedly say to his friends – “Looking after one rebellious teenage daughter is more difficult than managing ten dam sites”. But let us ignore this, I always did.) Alas, if women took such a stance they become supposedly unfeminine.

My perspective is that women entering finance line after doing a chartered accountancy or MBA (Finance) course are already mentally prepared for the roller coaster ride. So, I thought of the real career related challenges female risk managers face in their path to growth. Here are three situations in different stages of career. While I can’t say this is gender specific, men can face similar situations too, but possibility of women facing it is higher.

1.    The Young Professional

At the start of my career, a batch mate of mine, an exceptionally beautiful woman with a razor sharp mind excitedly called me at office. The edited conversation for you:

She: Sonia, at this audit client site I have met X guy. Very intelligent and suave. He came to the auditor’s room and chatted with me for an hour.

Me: Wow, I am happy for you. What next?

She: He invited me for a date.

Me: So are you going?

She: I have started investigating his department.

Me: Shit! Does he know?

She:  No. Whenever I see him, I give a big smile and bat my eyelids.

She was right on track. Investigations revealed that he was conducting a big fraud. This social trick has been used on nearly every young female auditor and investigator. Men think they can charm the wits out of women and hide their criminal activities. A woman would be too distracted to pursue her assignment properly. The distraught admirers are incommunicado after issue of the report.

2.    The Mid-Senior Level Professional

Consulting companies hire the better of the lot of experienced female risk managers. A consultant has to deliver high quality consistently otherwise, they will lose the client. Hence, meritocracy prevails in selection and recruitment.

However, the mindset is significantly different in the Indian industry sector. Some companies want to hire not so bright women (or men) as risk managers.  The male managers think that women are more compliant, less assertive and more controllable. Hence, a female risk manager will be more agreeable to their demands if they wish to pressure her.

Quite frequently, business executives want portions of the risk reports deleted and/or altered. They want to hide the inaccuracies, wrongdoing and frauds from CEO/Board. They assume that female risk manager can be bullied easily into a compromise, as she is far more vulnerable than male colleagues are.

Depending on the organization culture and situation, things can get nasty for women. In the Indian environment, unscrupulous business executives can destroy a woman’s personal and professional credibility easily by spreading rumors about her love life.

As India is a conservative male dominated society mindset is that if a woman has two lovers she is a whore, and a man with hundred lovers is great in bed. (Psst, who are the men having affairs with?) Hence, if a married woman is rumored to be having an office affair and her husband hears of it, she sometimes ends up paying a heavy price for it. A single woman’s reputation of independent reporting can be easily destroyed if it is rumored that she is having an affair with office colleagues. Most women risk managers leave their jobs and career at this point. There are only a few sophisticates who nonchalantly brazen out these situations.

3.    The Senior Level Professional

Breaking the glass ceiling with three inches heals is tough for Indian women on the whole and especially for the risk managers. The top order is still a male bastion. Though, a couple of times I have caused cracks in the ceiling, the top job is elusive. The best thing about failures is that they give an insight on the reasons for failure. I learnt a couple of lessons from them.

The men’s club at the top has the most political influence. Unfortunately, even senior female risk managers are not part of the group. Hence, they only get second-hand information of the political games being played. This puts them at a disadvantage in comparison to a male competitor. As he is part of the group, he can make the right political maneuvers. On the other hand, a female risk manager needs a mentor who fights her case with the group.

The second aspect is that if a female is not part of the group, they don’t trust her. In most organizations, a CEO’s direct reports have the most power and they only share it with people whom they trust. They are wary of risk managers as they have access to sensitive information of all departments and can break a few high profile careers. Hence, the CEOs direct reports generally do not approve the appointment of a risk manager who is loyal to the CEO and/or does not belong to their group. That situation makes them vulnerable, especially if they are involved in unsavory activities.

Therefore, a female risk manager succeeds in taking the top slot only when a whole number of situations are in favor of her. Her soft and technical skills are just one aspect which helps her in climbing the ladder.

Closing Thoughts

In India, female risk managers occupy less than 5% of senior risk management positions in industry and consultancy. While the regular gender diversity concerns remain, female risk managers face a few more challenges due to the nature of their job. The dedicated ones continue to persevere and fight the battle. Their passion ensures success.

Again, in Cleopatra’s words –

All strange and terrible events are welcome, but comforts we despise.”

3 comments on “Women Risk Managers and Power Games

    • Shilpi, thanks. Most probably you have faced some to.

      Naval, just do a count of women partners in big four in India and you will get the idea of the percentage.


Comments are closed.