- Date : 16/05/2018
- Read: 6 mins
A well-known leader in business and financial sustainability, Namita Vikas feels women have a superior emotional quotient that makes them better leaders.
Namita Vikas’ professional profile boasts of 27 years of well-rounded, diverse global experience in the banking, technology, and FMCG domain with a particular focus on sustainable finance, climate action, environmental social governance, risk management, and corporate citizenship.
Group president and global head of climate strategy and responsible banking at YES BANK, Namita was recognised as one of the ‘Leading Women in Business Sustainability’ by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) last year.
In this interview, she shares her views on the changing perspective of responsible banking, gender diversity in the workforce, and money matters concerning women.
Tell us something about your personal and educational background?
I grew up in a joint family and hence imbibed values of sharing and caring. Having been born into a family of doctors and engineers, there was immense pressure on me to pursue one of these streams. However, to me, learning held more value than a coveted degree. So I chose to study economics. Later I pursued ‘Management in Sustainability’ and ‘Business, Strategy, and Finance’ at Columbia Business School.
What’s been your contribution in bringing responsible banking to the fore?
As head of the Responsible Banking unit, I spearhead the sustainable development agenda at YES BANK. During these years, I believe the unit has been instrumental in positioning the bank as a benchmark financial institution for inclusivity and sustainability. Today, YES BANK is the only Indian bank to be included in all three major sustainability indices: DJSI, MSCI, and FTSE4Good.
My primary focus is building sustainability capacities within the bank by laying down frameworks for governance, transparency, responsible investments, and community impact. I was involved in the establishment of YES FOUNDATION (YES BANK’s social development arm) in 2012 and I’m a board member. We have implemented many successful programs, including the world’s largest social film movement called ‘YES! I am the CHANGE’ which aims to raise awareness on pertinent social and environmental issues through films.
What initiatives have YES BANK been taking to promote sustainable banking?
YES BANK strongly believes in leveraging the power of A.R.T. (Alliances, Relationships, and Technology) to make its banking practices sustainable. With respect to alliances and relationships, the bank engages with leading academic institutions such as TERI, top IIMs, ISB, and global think-tanks to draw from their immense knowledge of sustainability.
Last year it signed a charter with FMO of The Netherlands, DEG of Germany, and Proparco of France to mobilise green investments and seize opportunities in India’s sunrise sectors. More recently, the bank has partnered with European Investment Bank (EIB) to co-finance USD 400 million towards clean power projects in India.
YES BANK is pioneering digitisation-led growth by supporting digital wallet services across the country. Also, YES Pay Bot – the first AI-driven bot made for a wallet – aims to complement the already trusted and popular YES Pay wallet service that has over half a million users. These measures will help YES BANK to not only deliver innovative financial breakthrough solutions but also contribute to the overall sustainable finance agenda through efficient implementation.
Have you faced any challenges in your career up until now? If yes, what kind of challenges?
I believe no leader’s journey is complete without a cloud on the horizon – especially if you’re a woman.
On the personal front, I have often had to choose between official duty and my responsibilities as a daughter, a wife, and a mother. Thankfully, both my family and my colleagues support me, which may not be the case for many women. Given a woman’s natural lifecycle – marriage, child-bearing, housekeeping – her challenges are unique. While many organisations provide flexible working hours, extended maternity leave, and childcare support, there’s a need to change the society’s mindset.
On the professional front, leading the sustainability agenda was definitely an uphill task, considering its multiple objectives and ambitions. For an optimist like me, this also came as an opportunity for deep involvement and engagement across stakeholders, eliminating any scope for silos.
More women are becoming prominent in the banking industry. What, in your opinion, do women bring to the table and how can this trend be sustained?
What women bring to the table are excellent multitasking skills along with a multifaceted approach to solving problems. A study by Korn Ferry Hay Group, with data from 55,000 professionals across 90 countries, found that women outperform men in 11 of 12 emotional intelligence measures which form the emotional quotient (EQ) – a concept found to be closely related to leadership.
EQ, along with compassion and passion, is a critical trait required in today’s businesses which are driven more by relationships and experience rather than just products and transactions.
Secondly, adding women to the overall workforce adds significant economic potential that can be tapped by businesses. I believe that businesses today are in a unique position to capitalise on the huge opportunities offered by women’s participation. And by implementing and scaling positive initiatives for women, corporations can indeed sustain this trend.
Why do you think gender diversity is crucial for a successful business?
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once said, “Companies with more women on board have higher returns.” A McKinsey Global Institute report states that by 2025, equal participation by women in the workforce would add USD12 trillion to the annual global GDP.
Organisations should not only focus on improving the number dynamics as a part of their gender diversity strategy but should initiate programs that improve sensitivity towards gender-related issues and use the approach of ‘appropriate technology’ (originated by Dr Schumacher) as an enabler to enhance productivity for women and build a sustainable and healthy workplace.
In other words, businesses today need to invest more in women workforce, not merely to jump on the bandwagon but because there’s a business case for it, which is nothing less than smart economics.
Many studies indicate that women, in general, prefer traditional investments (gold, fixed deposits etc.) which are less risky. How important, do you think, is it for women to explore new investment options such as ETFs and mutual funds?
I concur with the studies. Women do tend to invest more in ‘safe’ options. However, I believe they don’t think of gold as a tradable asset – for them, its empirical value lies in its emotional worth.
Given the briskly changing investment landscape, I feel it is inevitably important that women explore contemporary investment options such as the equity market, as these give access to arguably high-return instruments. However, they must keep abreast of the market conditions to be able to analyse the risk-return propositions for all their investments.
Having said this, I feel a transition in women’s mindset towards high-income-high-risk investments is required, and this can only come about with education.
Today, women leaders like Namita Vikas are inspiring women across all social and economic strata to hold their own, believe in themselves and let their ambitions drive them towards success.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article by Namita Vikas are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of TomorrowMakers.com or its owners.