Thanks to the provisions inscribed in the constitution and other legal arrangements, the participation of women in civil service has grown gradually. While Nepal has come a long way in the inclusion of women in state institutions since the 2006 political change, a lot remains to be done.
On March 9 this year, Dr. Neelam Dhungana Timsina made history when she was appointed as the Deputy Governor of Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB). It was the first time in the history of the central bank that any woman was appointed in the second seniormost position. Before she was appointed as Deputy Governor, Timsina was serving as the only female Executive Director at the central bank. Timsina, who joined NRB on December 7, 1997, as an Assistant Officer is considered a hard-working and sincere central banker by her contemporaries and other colleagues in NRB.
Two months later on May 2, another major achievement in corporate women leadership was registered when Upasana Poudel was appointed as CEO of United Insurance Company Limited to become the first woman CEO in the insurance sector of Nepal. Poudel, who was working as Officiating CEO of United Insurance, joined the company in December 2019 as Deputy CEO.
While talks about women empowerment in the business sector have continued for many Meaningful discourses related to leadership and participation of women in the financial and other corporate sectors began to gather noticeable momentum in April 2018 when Anupama Khunjeli was appointed as the Mega Bank’s CEO to become the first female CEO in Nepal’s banking sector which has long been dominated by men.
Timsina, Poudel and Khunjeli are representatives of the remarkable story of women rising to the top echelons of private sector organizations. This also tells another story, that the glass ceiling of male monopoly in top management is slowly being broken.
Then, there are the likes of Yam Kumari Khatiwada, Pramila Devi Bajracharya, Nirmala Poudel, Ram Maya Kunwar, Lila Devi Gadtaula, and Dev Kumari Guragain. They belong to the select group of women who are at the top of their career as special class civil servants (Secretary).
Thanks to the provisions inscribed in the constitution and other legal arrangements, the participation of women in civil service has grown gradually. According to government statistics, the representation of women in the civil service has almost doubled in the last decade.
While Nepal has come a long way in the inclusion of women in state institutions since the 2006 political change, a lot remains to be done. In the last decade, Nepal saw her first female President, first female Speaker, and first female Chief Justice.
Women’s representation in politics is gradually increasing, so is in the civil service and private organizations.
Women in Economic Activities
The participation of women in economic activities in Nepal has been gradually improving. The share of women in the economically active population increased from 29.2 percent in 1971 to 45.4 percent in 2011.
The National Economic Census carried by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) stated that 29.8 percent of the enterprises in the country are owned by women. As many as 247,880 enterprises are owned by women, according to the census. Similarly, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) is the largest sector in terms of women’s ownership of business. According to official data, 60 percent of MSMEs are owned and operated by women.
However, women’s participation in the corporate workforce is yet to grow substantially. According to the CBS report, there are 273,436 female managers, or 29.6 percent, compared to 648,773 male managers who make up 70.3 percent of the total.
The wage gap between female and male workers is still significant. The CBS report titled ‘Analytical Report Women in Business’ says the share of women workers in any sector is high when the monthly income is small and vice versa.
“The share of women workers is 58 percent for monthly incomes smaller than Rs 7,600. In contrast, the share of women workers is only 12.2 percent for monthly incomes of more than Rs 25,000,” states the report.
Bridging Gap in Civil Service
The representation of women in the civil service has almost doubled in the past decade. According to the data obtained from the Department of Civil Personnel Records, women representation in the country›s civil service has increased from 13.84 percent in FY 2010/11 to 26.4 percent in FY 2019/20.
During this period, women’s representation in the civil service has increased by 11.92 percent. Of the total 67,075 employees working in the civil service in FY 2010/11, 10,773 were female. In FY 2019/20, of the total 89658 employees, 23672 were female.
The increase in the number of women in civil service began after an amendment in the Civil Service Act,1993, in 2007. The reservation of 45 percent civil service seats for women, along with the people from indigenous communities, Madhesis, Dalits, disabled people and people from backward areas, encouraged women to face Public Service Commission exams to join the civil services.
The statistics of the Public Service Commission show that in FY 2019/20, 209,825 women applied for civil service positions while 241,701 men applied for government jobs. “Women have not come forward and joined government jobs, just because of reservations. They are entering because they have qualifications required for the jobs,” said Deputy Governor Timsina.
Making a Presence Felt in the Male-dominated Domain
The banking sector has been emerging as one of the most attractive places to work in Nepal, particularly among women. Of late, the presence of women in the top management of banks and the insurance sector is on the rise.
In fact, women have a commendable presence in the banking sector. Statistics published by the Nepal Bankers’ Association (NBA) show that of the total employees of the 27 commercial banks in operation in Nepal, 39 percent are women.
Some banks have given priority to hiring women for various posts within their organizations. The Mega Bank, for instance, has 40 percent female employees. And, in the banks’ senior management, 50 percent are women. “It is not like women are in senior management positions just because of their gender. They are there because of hard work and dedication towards their duties and responsibilities,” said Khunjeli, CEO of Mega Bank.
Among the commercial banks, Prabhu Bank has the largest number of women employees. 53 percent (1,293) of the employees are women in the bank. Prime Bank has the second highest number of female employees in terms of percentage. The bank has 2,046 employees, out of which 52.5 percent (1,067) are women.
While women representation is increasing, they are still in minority at senior management levels. Of the 27 commercial banks, women have reached senior management levels only in 15 banks. There are 9 women in Nabil Bank, while Nepal Bank, Nepal Investment Bank, Mega Bank and Sanima Bank each have 4 women in leadership roles.
“A few years ago, the representation of women in the overall banking sector was low. That is the reason why there were fewer women in the top positions,” said Aarti Rana, Deputy CEO of Sunrise Bank. “With the increase in number, the participation has increased the top-level and mid-level positions. I have seen women possess all the qualities required for leadership roles.”
According to Rashmi Pant, Chief Operating Officer of Prabhu Bank, it is not easy for women to make a mark as they have to face several hurdles during their career growth. “In the already male-dominated banking sector, women, in many cases, don’t want to climb the growth ladder as they think taking care of family members is the utmost priority. While taking a career break during pregnancy and raising kids, they are left behind in the race,” said Pant. “There must be a supportive environment in the family for working women. If the family members are supportive, the number will increase further.”
But the Gap Still Exists…
While there is no authentic data about the state of female representation in Nepali corporate houses, few available reports indicate it is about 20 percent.
While there has been impressive growth in women participation in the civil service, the number of women at the leadership level is still low. There are only six female secretaries at the civil service currently.
The constitution has made 33 percent participation of women mandatory in every state body. Gender reservation has been provided for a long time to increase women’s participation. However, women’s participation in various government services, from civil servants, has yet to meet the 33 percent target.
As per the statistics of the Department of Civil Personnel Records, in FY 2019/20, of the total 587 Joint Secretaries (Gazetted First Class), there were only 42 female Joint Secretaries. Similarly, in Gazetted Second Class (Under Secretary), only 8 percent (267) were women. The percentage of women in section officer posts was 16 percent.
Hospitality and tourism is one of the sectors where women employees have a sizeable presence. A report by Plan International titled ‘Female and Thriving: The Business Case for Women’s Empowerment and Retention in the Hospitality and Tourism Sector’ shows 20-25 percent of employees in the Hospitality and Tourism sector are women. “According to HAN, over half (60 percent) of the women employed by the sector are in housekeeping, 30 percent are in the front desk and food service, with only 10 percent having achieved managerial and executive-level positions,” states the report.
The report says many women in the hospitality and tourism sector are limited to the lower rungs of the organization’s ladder. “A third of the female staff surveyed are found working mainly in housekeeping, front desk management, sales and marketing, and food serving positions. Only 7 percent have advanced to a managerial level position,” states the report. The Plan International report throws some interesting facts – employers perceive interpersonal skills as the top benefit of hiring female staff.
While hydropower is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Nepal, it lags behind when it comes to women representation. A study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in August 2020, only 10 percent of total employees in Nepal’s hydropower sector are women, and very few of those employed are in leadership positions. The study titled “Powered by Women: Business Case for Gender Diversity and Equality in Nepal’s Hydropower Sector” says women’s representation in the board of directors of hydropower companies is extremely small compared to men.
Similarly, the number of women employed in leadership positions in hydropower companies is also low. Out of 20 companies studied, five are led by female executives, of whom four are also company promoters/investors. A further three companies employ women as department/project leads. “Women generally occupy mid-level positions with a higher concentration in junior-level positions,” states the report.
Job Quality Improving, But Women Lag Behind
While Nepal’s economy has added nearly four million jobs over the past decade and average job quality increased significantly, women continue to face limited earning opportunities, according to the World Bank’s Nepal Jobs Diagnostic report.
The report released last year states most wage jobs are going to men. The manufacturing, finance, and business services sectors added significant wage jobs. But men benefited disproportionately from this increment. Altogether, men took up over two-thirds of the new wage jobs added to the economy since 2008. According to the report, gendered social norms limit women of labor mobility and work opportunities, which is reflected by the fact that most women remain in unpaid works.
Access to formal employment is even more restricted for women: 3.6 percent of women hold formal jobs, compared to 12.3 percent of men.
Female Secretaries (Special Class) in Civil Service
Pramila Devi Bajracharya, Secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water
Yam Kumari Khatiwada, Secretary Ministry of Women, Children & Senior Citizen
Nirmala Poudel, Registrar, Supreme Court
Ram Maya Kunwar, Deputy AG, Office of Auditor General
Lila Devi Gadtaula, Secretary, Nepal Law Commission
Dev Kumari Guragain, Secretary, PPMO
Dr. Neelam Dhungana Timsina
Deputy Governor, Nepal Rastra Bank
The perception of society towards women has changed in recent years. This has happened as it is hard to sustain financially if only one of the family members (men) is the breadwinner.
Women these days are independent to make decisions. The latest data shows the female participation is around 40 percent in the Nepali banking sector. However, female employees in the Nepal Rastra Bank comprise only 20 percent of the workforce, but the numbers are growing gradually.
With our constitution ensuring reservation for women, there has been a remarkable improvement in female participation in civil service. The statistics of the Civil Service Commission show more women are applying for government jobs. Having said that, women have not come forward and joined government jobs, just because of reservations. They are entering because they have the qualification required for the job.
As a woman, it is hard to have a good work-life balance when you are at the senior level. I make a lot of compromises in my personal life just because I succeed in my professional life. I skip parties, gatherings, and many occasions. Even though I want to visit my son’s school, I do not have time for it sometimes. But all these compromises will help me grow as a professional.
CEO, Mega Bank
At Mega Bank, the participation of women is 50 percent in senior management. Likewise, our 40 percent staff are women. The participation is satisfying.
It is not like women are in senior management just because of their gender. They are there because of hard work and dedication towards their duties and responsibilities.
Families are supportive of women jobholders these days. But even there are hurdles for them. Generally, women take a break from their jobs for pregnancy just a few years after starting their careers. The break would be longer if they plan to have more than one kid. This is where they get left behind. As a result, only a handful of women have been able to reach the senior management levels by clearing all the hurdles.
It is not easy to succeed if you fail to manage work and your personal life. In the banking sector, if you want to succeed whether you are male or female, you have to make compromises. You will be missed by your family and you will miss your family.
It is not like you will not have a personal life. You will get weekly offs, which you can spend with your family and friends. You have to segregate priorities even in your personal life.
CEO, United Insurance
The participation of women has increased in the last few years. This is the reason why corporates are slowly getting females as their heads. With the increase of female participation in the junior levels, we will surely see the rise of females in executive positions in the next few years.
I think society expects a lot from a woman. She has to handle multiple responsibilities in the family and in her career. This has been a hurdle for them to grow. But success does not come without hard work and adjustments. You have to put in the extra effort. When you work extended hours, which I call an adjustment, do not compromise.
In corporate institutions, women are treated fairly, and one climbs the career ladder because of skills and hard work.
Having said that, I always encourage my staff to take a break from work once in a while to spend time with families. We don’t even call our colleagues on weekends and public holidays unless there is an emergency. Most of the corporate institutions these days have a forced leave provision so that their staff can maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Chief Operating Officer, Prabhu Bank
The participation of women in the banking sector has significantly increased in the last few years and the representation is almost 50 percent. As the banking sector offers financial security to employees, and being a banker offers a good social status, more women are attracted to start their careers in banking.
However, there are several hurdles women face during their career growth.
In the already male-dominated banking sector, women in many cases, hesitate to climb the growth ladder as they think taking care of family members is the utmost priority. While taking a career break during pregnancy and raising kids, they are left behind in the race. So, there must be a supportive environment in the family for working women. If the family members are supportive, the number will increase further.
In recent times, we have seen the rise of women in executive positions in the sector. This proves that women are also capable and can work extended hours balancing work and life. The banking sector requires a lot of dedication and passion, and one has to work extended hours to succeed. One has to make compromises. Even in my case, it took time for me to get used to the male-dominated work environment. I have made compromises like skipping social gatherings and parties to succeed in my career.
Deputy CEO, Sunrise Bank
One must have certain qualities to reach the top. And the numbers in recent years show the women participation is increasing in the top corporate positions.
A few years ago, the representation of women in the overall banking sector was low. That is the reason why there were fewer women in the top positions. With the increase in number, participation has increased in the top-level and mid-level positions. I have seen women possess all the qualities required to be in leadership.
It has already been two decades since I joined the banking sector. I have been fortunate that I got immense support from my family. It is a must to have a good level of work-life balance when you are in the banking sector. The nature of duty in the banking sector requires extra effort and we have to work extra hours when required. If you are not passionate, hard-working, and not ready for compromises, then it will be hard to succeed.
I have always loved and enjoyed my job. So even when people said you are investing so much time in my job, I did not care. I am doing what I loved the most.
Standard Chartered Bank Nepal
I am in the banking sector for the last 14 years. And in the last few years, women participation has increased in a satisfactory manner. But the increment is only seen in the lower levels. Still, the executive positions are dominated by men.
In Nepal, we face gender bias, traditional beliefs, and society has set separate roles for men and women. Due to all these reasons, women have been backward for so many years. In our society, we still think that women have to take care of both her husband and kids. Of course, men and women have biological and physical differences, but when it comes to career–both are the same.
I must say family support is a must for everyone–both men and women. It is not easy to succeed without the support of your partner. There must be compromises, and your partner and family should be there to understand your sacrifices.
In Standard Chartered Bank Nepal, we have 25 percent female representation in the executive committee. This number was zero in 2018. This shows how females are climbing the ladder despite the hurdles.
Likewise, the board of directors is also led by a female. The BoD has a female representation of 40 percent.
Chief Risk Officer, Nabil Bank
The participation of women in the banking sector currently is very positive. However, the representation is still less in the top positions. But the positive part is the participation is slowly increasing over the last few years.
I have seen that women are left behind in the growth race after they get married. Before getting married, they grow the same as their male counterparts. But the burden increases for them after getting married. So, I feel the husband and other in-laws should be supportive and be equally responsible in raising kids, so the wife can succeed in what she is doing. Husbands should also do household work. This is how a couple grows together in their professional life.
In my case, my family was supportive, so I did not face any problems in my career growth.
Despite the growing participation of women in the overall banking sector, their numbers in the top executive positions can still be counted on fingers. The women/men ratio is almost equal at the entry-level positions. I also take interviews for recruitments, and I find that young women of today are smart and presentable. But as I said, there should be support from the family and many compromises to succeed in this sector.