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Ensuring High Gender-Inclusivity Initiatives at SBI life Insurance – BW Businessworld

While its heartening to see companies taking initiatives to provide utmost comfort to its female employees, but SBI Life Insurance on the other hand is striving hard towards #Bringingwomenbacktowork. This way they are not only instilling within women a zeal to begin to work again, but are also giving a carved out opportunity for those who were in dire need of jobs post their sabbaticals or career breaks.

Hence, Seema Trikannad, EVP & Chief of HR and Management Services, SBI Life Insurance has collaborated with BW platform to shell out her plans for the same in times to come. Let’s have a look upon SBI’s women-oriented initiatives to help them stand on their feet post their career breaks.

1) The ongoing pandemic has been tough for both employers and employees. How has SBI Life ensured the safety of its employees till date? 

Employees need to feel safe, connected & well supported in times of crisis to ensure business continuity. Providing a secure work environment, one that demonstrates sound emergency readiness and a strong security framework, is paramount. The pandemic is unlike anything we’ve witnessed until now; we’ve looked at it from a broader lens where humankind needs to come together and stay united. Understanding the human cost of the crisis, where coping with the sudden lockdown and social distancing norms was taking a toll on individual willpower, SBI Life launched an emotive ‘WE CAN, WE WILL’ anthem, to lift the spirits at a time when the nation’s morale was at its lowest ebb. The one of a kind initiative saw 27 local celebrities from different parts of the country singing the WE CAN, WE WILL anthem in nine different languages that was broadcasted in over 30 TV channels nationally. Thus lifting the spirits of individuals across the nation and effectively rallying the nation’s battle against COVID-19. Further we continued with numerous initiatives to safeguard our employees, customers, distributors and partners, while simultaneously ensuring business continuity. 

Key steps taken at the very start of the pandemic outbreak are: 

Immediate Salary pay-outs- We ensured all the salary pay-outs were made in advance during the lockdown period to ensure that our people could take care of their provisions and other necessities.

Special leave on account of COVID- We introduced a special leave policy over and above the annual leave entitlement, to support our employees in this hour of need if affected by covid. We also extended Mediclaim support to ease the financial burden of our employees who were undergoing their treatment

Embraced WFH- We empowered all our employees with the necessary digital tools to stay connected with our customers and address any of their immediate insurance needs

Constant Connect- Our leadership actively engaged with the employees through various social media platforms, ensuring constant communication and immediate solutions to any pain points brought forward by the employees

Counselor support- With the help of our NGO partner Arpan, we facilitated a platform to our employees who are feeling stressed & anxious due to the ongoing situation, to anonymously seek the required help, guidance & counseling

We continue to take measures that will help all our stakeholders i.e. internal and external, to stay safe and at the same time provide seamless access to our services during these unprecedented times.

2) Is Gender Diversity improving in the insurance sector? At SBI Life, how has the gender ratio shifted over the years and where does it currently stand at?

Gender diversity is about the equal representation of men and women in the workplace. For decades, women all over the world have been fighting stereotypes, unconscious bias, and societal norms that might limit their development. But we do see this changing for the better. Women in the workforce are making their mark not only at the entry-level but also at the top management level. Gender diversity is important for new-age insurance companies, especially because diversity brings in innovation and creativity in the business approach. Most importantly, it helps to weed out complacency. 

Insurance has gone beyond crunching numbers, it involves a lot of skills like creativity and communication, for effective customer service and relationships. With the increasing focus on customer satisfaction, the sector is eager to hire employees who can be empathetic, patient and caring. Besides possessing these traits, women are also naturally intuitive and sensitive to the concerns of others. They are excellent multitaskers, a skill largely acquired due to societal expectations, women bring a lot more to the table.

Over the last 3 years, our employee strength has gone up from around 13,200 to 17,500 and during this period, we have been able to gradually improve our gender mix and recruit more female employees. We are constantly focusing on adding more female employees to our workforce, especially in the sales & marketing vertical of the company. In fact, the number of female employees in SBI Life has gone up by 35% over the last 3 years.

3) What are the strategies SBI Life is planning to put in place to increase the female staff ratio?

Women face unique challenges while balancing home and office life, being both caregivers and financial providers to their families, and seeking career advancement while fulfilling their family responsibilities. In quite a few cases, women are transitioning into becoming primary breadwinners for the family, alongside their role of primary caregiver.

At SBI Life, we have been consistently working towards building a more equal & inclusive organisation. Our initiatives are aimed at increasing the number of female staff so as to build a more inclusive workforce within the organisation. Gender diversity is actively encouraged and currently, a significant portion of the workforce is represented by women.

4) Have you introduced any new initiatives to involve more female staff? Could you share more details on the same?

Yes, the company is planning some new initiatives specifically targeted towards women who wish to restart their careers. Through these initiatives, we are planning on increasing the female strength in the organisation and encourage more women to choose insurance as a career and be financially independent. 

Our ultimate objective here is to encourage women’s participation in leadership roles in order to leverage their hidden potential and highlight its necessity in the insurance sector. Through our initiatives, we hope to bring in inclusivity and gender diversity for sustainable future growth.

5) Besides gender inequality, pay inequality is also a huge problem across corporate hierarchies. Men and women are paid differently for the same work in several companies. What are the measures undertaken by SBI Life to minimize or eliminate this issue?

Pay inequality is indeed a reality in many sectors despite the increased participation of women in the workforce. While various factors are cited, gender discrimination tops them all. To address this issue, it’s very important to address the cultural biases that continue to harm women till date by devaluing their work and confining them to specific gender roles. The women employees at SBI Life however, do not face this issue since the pay and compensation are decided devoid of gender bias. We ensure that everyone is treated fairly. 

We have a robust work-family policy, which is essential to accommodate unpaid obligations of women so that it doesn’t have a negative effect on their pay. One such policy is a comprehensive maternity plan which should be in place in every organization to support working mothers and to ensure that motherhood does not hinder the career of female employees in anyway. Besides the maternity leave, SBI Life also has a Sabbatical leave policy in place specifically designed to help employees manage their careers and personal life events more effectively. We have also made provisions in annual performance appraisal, wherein female employees on maternity leave are kept out of the bell curve to ensure fair assessment for the period spent at work.

6) What are the unique skill-set female staff bring to the table, in context to the insurance sector?

It goes without saying that women are at par with their male counterparts in managing their responsibilities. But it’s interesting to note that there are several additional qualities that women possess which make them a good fit for working in the insurance sector.

Women are excellent communicators and relationship builders which is considered as an essential trait in the insurance industry since it requires a lot of persuasion and good communication skills. Also, the employees need to be in constant touch with the customers for query management which can only be fulfilled by someone who is empathetic and an effective communicator.

Having women in insurance is also good for increasing financial awareness and literacy amongst women. The number of women buying insurance and other financial products is far lesser than their male counterparts. Thus, the inclusion of women in customer-facing roles such as a sales officer will only result in the spread of financial literacy among women which in turn will ensure their financial independence.

Women have a balanced approach to risk and can ensure better financial outcomes due to this nature. The risky nature of the insurance business requires such employees who weigh their options properly before reaching on a conclusion. 

Apart from these qualities a gender-diverse pool of talent also brings new ways and thinking to an organization which is essential to remain agile in a disruptive environment. 

7) There is a general myth or perception that women aren’t well equipped at financial planning. What is your view on this?

Long-established social norms, cultural attitudes and the fact that till a few decades ago, women were not employed have contributed to women having a passive role in financial planning. The myth that women aren’t equipped for financial planning is based on the notion of division of household responsibilities that assumes women are not prepared to take financial decisions. Also, the myth that women take decisions based on emotion whereas financial planning requires cold reason and logic. In truth, women have long had substantial responsibility for family finances.

In the 21st century, women are more empowered than ever before. They are enhancing their position in the power structure of the society whether it be flying planes, fighting enemies at the border, or heading a C-suite position at business empires. They are redefining their roles constantly and challenging old belief systems to make room for new ones where women are at the center of financial decisions. 

Women are not only regulating their day-to-day lives in social, political, and economic terms, a power that enables them to move from the periphery to the center stage but is also successful in attaining financial independence with adequate financial education. Women have been consistently improving and enhancing their own financial well-being and that of their loved ones.

8) Women often fall out of the workforce owing to personal/family commitments. How does SBI Life tackle these challenges in order to encourage and retain women in the workforce?

In the recent times, the issue of work-life balance has gained more attention due to the fact that an individual’s work life and personal life may present conflicting demands on one another while the demands from both sides are equally important. 

Gender diversity has improved significantly in the 21st-century workforce as more women have entered the workplace. 

At SBI Life, we have adopted several ways to promote work-life balance without compromising on productivity.

i) Maternity leave: Getting married, becoming parents, taking care of one’s parents, and falling sick are things that naturally happen to any individual. Our policies are designed to ensure that motherhood does not hinder the career of our female employees in any way. Apart from the 26 weeks (182 days) maternity leave for first 2 children and 12 weeks (84 days) thereafter, we also have facility for leave in case of adoption. SBI Life’s policies also provide leave for pregnancy-related medical issues.

ii) Understanding the challenges that working moms face: Besides maternity leave, we have a ‘Sabbatical leave’ policy in place to provide flexibility and support to employees to manage their careers and personal life events more effectively. Sabbatical leave can be availed for as long as 24 months for certain specific purposes including child care.

iii) Creating a culture of conscious inclusion: To keep enhancing the idea of an inclusive culture we have taken a conscious decision to have gender diverse teams across departments. Having female staff not only adds new skills to the workforce but also increases productivity and growth gains. 

iv) Female mentoring programme: Returning to work after a break is a key career transition for many women, thus it is important to mentor them at this phase. Our primary attempt is to ensure that women employees who avail long leave for specific reasons are able to return to work in the same location & role. This assists in maintaining continuity and prevents them from feeling alienated from the work environment and job role. In case an employee is required to join in a different role, we ensure that adequate mentoring & hand-holding is done on the job to help them get a better understanding of the changed role & responsibilities. 

v) Bringing Family to Work: We believe that it is important to build a strong bond with the employee’s family i.e. our extended family as they are the ones who support our employees in giving their best and making a huge difference at work. Therefore, we have ensured to involve them in various bonding activities to nurture the feeling of belongingness. Before the outbreak of Covid, on occasions like Children’s day, Diwali or Christmas we invited family members also to take part in various fun filled activities and made sure that they felt connected with the organisation. During the Covid period too, we have held activities involving families via digital platforms so that our bonding with our extended families continues to stay strong.

Source: Google | Insurance News

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