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[Herald Interview] ‘Empowering women goes beyond representation’

UK-based multinational lender runs re-skilling programs for female employees to enhance capabilities in male-dominated areas

Tanuj Kapilashrami, the head of human resources at Standard Chartered Bank (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Tanuj Kapilashrami, the head of human resources at Standard Chartered Bank (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Achieving diversity and inclusion within a company goes beyond merely increasing the quantity and presence of female employees, said Tanuj Kapilashrami, the head of human resources at Standard Chartered Bank.

In a country that often ranks near the bottom of global gender equality indices, SC Bank Korea has achieved approximately 30 percent representation of senior female leaders.

“In Korea, we've made great progress. I'm incredibly proud of the fact that 30 percent of our senior colleagues are women,” Kapilashrami said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald during her visit to Seoul.

The figure is a little shy of the banking group's global ratio of 32 percent. It is much higher than Korea's average ratio of women in parliamentary and high-ranking managerial positions which stood at 16.27 percent last year, according to data from the World Economic Forum.

"But we believe just having representational diversity is not enough,” she added.

Highlighting the emerging skill requirements in banking, including digital, data, technology, and cyber proficiencies, Kapilashrami noted that many of these areas have historically been male-dominated.

"If we solely rely on recruiting university graduates, there's a challenge that gender equity in the company could worsen," she said. "So in the company, we are doing some very targeted re-skilling programs to get more women ... into data, digital and cyber roles."

Kapilashrami also delved deeper into the group's annual evaluation program, highlighting its role in enhancing diversity and inclusion.

Every SC Bank member participates in an annual survey aimed at assessing their level of inclusion within the organization. Each leader receives an inclusion index score for their teams, which serves as a comprehensive tool highlighting their strengths and areas for improvement.

“I think creating that strong culture of inclusion ... is incredibly important," Kapilashrami said.

She further explained that these survey results, combined with diverse leadership training programs, guide leaders in enhancing their capabilities.

“My strong belief is that most of our leaders want to do the right thing. People want to lead well, but sometimes they don't have the right tools and support," she said regarding the survey's function.

In her role as head of HR for a global firm, Kapilashrami also talked about the varied approaches needed when implementing HR programs across different countries.

She especially underscored the importance of respecting local culture while constantly challenging the organization to evolve and grow.

She cited the example of implementing upward feedback in Korea, where cultural norms initially posed challenges.

"(Some) said people would not give feedback to their bosses. We launched a very strong program around giving feedback and our takeoff in SC Bank Korea has been phenomenal,” she said.

During the interview, Kapilashrami also discussed the rising importance of skills within organizations, irrespective of gender.

"We are really seeing a big focus towards skills as compared to thinking about traditional jobs,” she said.

The HR team, in particular, is noting the increasing worth of new skill sets, including digital proficiency, data expertise and an enhanced focus on global sustainability.

Kapilashrami also touched on a recent HR trend in Korea -- appointing chief financial officers as chief executive officers, including KB Financial Group Chairman Yoon Jong-kyoo, KB Kookmin Bank CEO Hur Yin and Hana Bank CEO Lee Seung-yeul.

Tanuj Kapilashrami, the head of human resources at Standard Chartered Bank (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Tanuj Kapilashrami, the head of human resources at Standard Chartered Bank (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

She explained that this trend is also aligned with the escalating focus on skills.

Kapilashrami perceives that the skill set cultivated by CFOs has undergone a substantial evolution, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CFOs now gain exposure beyond finance, accounting and balance sheet management, encompassing areas like governance, regulatory relations, and investor relations.

These experiences provide them with the skills required for a CEO position, she said.

“I would argue that good risk management skills are also quite important to be CEO as well.” She added. “So I don't believe that the CFO route is the only route to become a CEO.”

Kapilashrami joined Standard Chartered in March 2017 and assumed the role of the HR head in November 2018. She is responsible for crafting a unique employee experience for the bank's 83,000 employees across 53 global markets.

Prior to her tenure at Standard Chartered, she spent 17 years at HSBC, gaining expertise across various HR domains in key markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, India and London.

By Song Seung-hyun (