How Mashreq Bank is focused on having more women in the workforce


Banking has always been considered a more male-dominated area, as it has more processes and systems that make it appear as a technological business. However, Mashreq Bank is one company that believes that even the women in the Bank’s workforce possess enough technical knowledge to handle these roles better.

Mashreq Bank’s subsidiary, Mashreq Global Network Bangalore, is a crucial player in the company’s digital strategy and has taken on the responsibility of enabling remote work. Mashreq Bank is a prominent financial institution with a global presence in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US. It has been one of the UAE’s most successful banks for 50 years, and is well-known for its innovative products and services.

Jayanthi Gopal has recently joined the Mashreq Global Network India as VP-head, HR. With more than 20 years of experience in human resources functions, and a wealth of expertise in developing HR programmes and initiatives to support businesses for various global organisations, Gopal talks about how the company has been committed to gender diversity, and improved women’s representation in its workforce from 28 per cent to 32.4 per cent. The company dreams of achieving 50 per cent gender diversity by the year 2024.

Why and when was the strategy to include more women in the workforce adopted?

“It’s been an ongoing strategy. However, the idea took a front seat after Ahmed Abdullah, CEO, Mashreq Bank, visited India and gave us an ambitious goal to achieve 50 per cent gender diversity ratio by 2024,” shares Gopal. She goes on to add, “Currently, we’re running with a 32 per cent female workforce and have plans to reach the set target”.

To get more women in the workforce and reach the mentioned target, the company uses numerous practises. The first and foremost step is reflected in the company’s recruitment process. The company prioritises women, and only considers male candidates if there are no suitable women candidates.

The company’s main focus has been women who wish to return to work after a career break owing to reasons such as maternity, elder care, or marriage. “Our goal is to offer opportunities to anyone who wishes to rejoin the workforce, regardless of the reason for their career break,” asserts Gopal.

Additionally, the company also offers training and apprenticeship to qualified individuals who are eventually absorbed into the organisation. However, they are also free to work elsewhere if they so wish. For instance, the ‘Woman Returning Programme’, focuses on women who wish to restart their careers and provides ongoing job training.

With proper training accompanied by the right corporate culture, the company is creating a ‘pipeline’ of women who are future ready and can work anywhere. Gopal points out, “At the end of the programme, if they are not absorbed by our organisation, other similar organisations in the banking sector can employ them. By creating this pipeline, we aim to have a pool of qualified women ready to join the workforce.”

“We have found that this flexibility in working is especially appealing to women, and it sets us apart from other employers. We believe that offering flexible work arrangements has had a positive impact on our organisation and has helped us attract and retain top talent.”

Jayanthi Gopal, VP-head, HR, Mashreq Global Network India

Other than hiring women, Mashreq also focuses on retaining the women in its workforce. There are discussion groups that try to understand women’s specific challenges and minimise them. Giving details of the nature of discussions in the group, Gopal explains, “Men and women have different perceptions of ambition, with women often prioritising career retention and men prioritising career growth. This presents a challenge for us, but we offer one-on-one coaching to help women address gaps in their career and pursue their ambitions without feeling guilty about balancing work and personal life.” Their soft programmes are focused on coaching women and building confidence in them to address their perception of themselves as employees.

How has this change in demography by including more women in the workforce, improved productivity?

In the distributed workforce at Mashreq, 60-70 per cent roles are such that they can be performed from home. Hence, a significant portion of the workforce works in a hybrid model. This model has been working well for Mashreq allowing the Bank to leverage the best talent in the country. Gopal points out, “We have found that this flexibility is especially appealing to women, and it sets us apart from other employers. We believe that offering flexible work arrangements has had a positive impact on our organisation and has helped us attract and retain top talent.”

Additionally, the main focus of the company is about meeting deliverables, not on how or when the work is done or where the employee is located. “We have sensitised our male managers to this fact and encouraged women employees to be authentic and confident in their interactions with male colleagues. This approach has helped us retain some of our female workforce and attract them back if they need to take a break. Our flexible work module is one of our key differentiators,” adds Gopal.

The company manages its regular and hybrid workforce just the same. Regardless of gender, all employees must meet the same standards of capability and productivity.

Which are the levels or roles with the maximum women? What is their impact?

The company follows a gender-balanced workforce at all levels, particularly in banking and consumer-banking operations. As these roles are remote, there are more women in these roles. “We have made a deliberate effort to hire women for most of our technology roles, which is necessary because our industry requires a lot of technology professionals. Fortunately, many of these professionals can work remotely, which aligns with our strategy of having a distributed workforce,” adds Gopal.

The company is also exploring other roles that may interest the female workforce instead of traditional banking operations, including banking operations and contact centres. These roles can be full-time ‘work-from-home’ or office-based jobs, including work such as collections, sales and marketing.

Diversity is being pursued in risk management too, as there are few women in this area of the banking industry. “We want to hire women in this field and have all roles certified before offering them to men,” says Gopal. Other areas where the focus is more on diversity are corporate investment banking, retail banking and contact centres. “Although its’ easy to find people for contact centres, it’s challenging to retain them. Therefore, we are working hard to retain the women who already work with us,” she adds.

How do you differentiate the women talent across India, Pakistan and Egypt? Surely, they bring in different perspectives and expertise or some special talent to the table? Are the problems or challenges across these three countries any different?

Mashreq Global Network (MGN) is the innovation-led arm of Mashreq Bank that supports all functions and business groups of the bank, including commercial and consumer banking, as well as technology-related functions. While MGN has over 1800 employees spread across India, Pakistan, and Egypt, the larger chunk of employees is based in India. Unlike other multinational banks that have a presence in India but deliver work to other countries, MGN allows any role to be based out of any location as long as they are able to deliver and are associated with MGN. The company has diversity targets across all locations, and programmes in place to identify top talent regardless of gender. However, they also have a target to ensure that women are not left behind in their workforce. The women talent from different countries also bring in different perspectives and expertise, and MGN recognises and values that diversity.

Unlike Mashreq Bank India, which has been operating here for over 10 years, its global network in Pakistan and Egypt is relatively new. However, “it was easier to have 50 per cent women in the workforce in such networks and establish a standard approach and meet diversity targets,” says Gopal.

In contrast, in India, they had to make a conscious effort to increase the number of women in management roles. The COVID pandemic was a turning point for Mashreq, and lessons were learnt from it, including the importance of having a distributed workforce. Now, employees all over India are engaged through virtual programmes, including a virtual celebration for Garba and other festivals. They are also focused on attracting returning mothers to their workforce, in addition to increasing diversity.

Overall, what kind of talent is required by the company, and how do men and women employees fulfil them differently?

We require individuals with banking and technology expertise. However, skills alone are not enough. Attitude and a willingness to learn are critical at all levels, particularly at the entry level. Our organisation is flexible and constantly adapting to change. Therefore, we need people with confidence and a positive attitude. While banking operations are crucial, knowledge is only a small part of what we need. That is why, we find it easy to hire women, as they are often multifaceted, adaptable and quick learners.

What challenges does the company face in increasing diversity or inviting more women to the workforce? Is it lack of talent or apprehensions from the women talent to join the workforce? Is the scenario any different among these three countries?

Despite the fact that the company has highly flexible working arrangements, these benefits are comparable to those offered by larger multinational banks. However, the biggest issue is not having an awareness about their programmes. Hence, the company consistently communicates their benefits, culture, and collaborative working style to attract talent at large. “Rather than actively seeking out talent, our hiring has largely been driven by word of mouth,” opines Gopal.

“The well-known leaky pipeline phenomenon, where women tend to leave the workforce, is something we need to address. Our goal is not only to have 50 per cent women in our workforce, but we also aim to have diversity at all levels, including senior management,”

Jayanthi Gopal, VP-head, HR, Mashreq Global Network India

Their efforts are more focused on creating and increasing their brand presence. Recently, the company also won the Great Place to Work award. “We genuinely care about our employees and actively listen to their feedback, which is our unique proposition,” she says with pride.

What is your overall talent-acquisition strategy? Do you also hire people from campus, or is it more of lateral hiring?

For talent acquisition, the company primarily has been focusing on lateral hiring and also targeting campuses for some time now. Talent is picked from many technology and management campuses, along with people with disabilities.

“We’re aiming at bridging the gap in our diversity, which is currently between 32 to 50 per cent. This is a significant goal to achieve in the next two years, and we need to hire about 50 to 60 per cent of our current hiring capacity to meet this target.

“Our current focus is to hire more women employees for various roles. However, we are also aware that the challenge is not just about hiring them but retaining them in the organisation. Our net difference in diversity has only been about 3 to 4 per cent, which is not enough given the amount of focus we have on diversity. We have a significant diversity gap of almost 18 per cent that we need to address by creating a pipeline of female candidates who can potentially join our workforce, whether they decide to stay with us or not. The well-known leaky pipeline phenomenon, where women tend to leave the workforce, is something we need to address. Our goal is not only to have 50 per cent women in our workforce, but we also aim to have diversity at all levels, including senior management. We do not want to measure diversity by hiring more women at the junior level, and then it gradually decreases as we move up the ladder. The number of women graduating from management institutions is almost equal to that of men, but the proportion of women in the workforce drops to 40% and further decreases to 30 per cent as they move up their career. Hence, it is crucial for us to focus on preventing the leakage of female talent and increasing the number of women in our workforce in the next few years,” concludes Gopal.”

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