Risk management is a vastly evolving function which gets renewed attention every time a global crisis occurs – be it the 2008 recession, the Covid-19 pandemic or the geopolitical tensions in Ukraine. Today, organisations globally have positioned it as a strategic function - and cybersecurity, extended enterprise risks, ESG, business continuity, social media risks and many more fall under its purview.
For some of the traditional risk management areas like compliance, assurance and internal audit, among others, the diversity ratio is a lot more balanced at least until mid-management level. However, in newer disciplines such as cybersecurity, only 24% of the workforce comprises women, according to (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study.
Rohit Mahajan, partner, president - risk advisory, Deloitte India, says while the gender gap in the risk advisory profession continues to shrink, there is still much work to be done to recruit and retain women in the industry.
This is especially crucial now, when the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated a global talent shortage and disproportionately affected the female population.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Mahajan talks about what women can bring to risk management, the opportunities that the domain holds for women professionals in present times and efforts organisations should put in to help them advance in the sector.
Do men and women see risk and opportunity in different ways and act differently?
More than looking at it from the comparative lens of “who is more suited”, I would like to look at it from the perspective of “how do we best deliver value?”
And the answer to that is clearly with a healthy mix of genders on the team. Centuries of conditioning and a largely patriarchal society have certainly groomed men and women differently, and breaking the stereotypes is a task in itself.
Women are naturally gifted with the ability to multi-task, perform under pressure, demonstrate resilience, and think differently. All of which are admirable qualities in risk management.
Why is there a gender imbalance in risk management?
Most of the traditional reasons apply when it comes to the imbalanced gender ratio in risk management as well such as a narrowing funnel for leadership roles, personal priorities, work-life balance, etc. In addition, nuances of the function, narrow talent supply expound the gap further.
Unlike engineering, marketing, medicine, architecture, etc., risk management by itself is not a well-defined curriculum. Of course, there are several programmes and certifications that enable a strong understanding of the function. However, unlike the disciplines I mentioned, it is quite difficult to understand the supply of talent for such a diverse practice.
If you look at most of the leaders in risk management, you will notice that the majority of them did not start off with core risk skills. They have a solid footing in business dynamics and external factors which have enabled them to rise through the ranks.
The value women bring to risk management is enormous in terms of fresh perspectives, diverse views, re-imagining risk among others. Therefore, we are absolutely pushing the pedal on bridging the gender gap – and we will get there gradually.
What are the biggest barriers faced by women starting a career in risk management?
Honestly, I do not see any barriers that are very specific to risk management. Typically, the talent pool for risk management includes chartered accountants, lawyers, architects, data scientists, ethical hackers, software engineers, climate and sustainability specialists, MBAs, etc.
That represents a vast umbrella of specialisations with which people can end up pursuing a career in risk management.
Over and above the academic pool, one integral qualification that is required is to have a peripheral view of any situation to deliver better outcomes.
Several studies have indicated that women are able to mirror their multi-tasking abilities at home to bring unique points of views when it comes to disruptive risk situations as well. As a matter of fact, if anything, women are a natural fit due to years of genetic programming to manage uncertainties.
What opportunities does the risk management domain hold for women professionals now?
The scenario is changing in two specific ways:
Gender diversity is now on every corporate and board agenda. Organisations are cognisant of the fact that if they want to be truly aligned to managing risks in disruptive situations, it cannot occur without a diverse set of minds.
Women play a critical role here. Uncertainties are mostly unique and need to be handled with equally unique minds – reducing the gender gap brings that perspective to the table.
Diversity has proven that organisations can be better at decision making, improving financial metrics, social consciousness, and innovation.
According to a Deloitte Women in the Boardroom report, companies with women CEOs have significantly more balanced boards than those led by men—33.5% women vs 19.4%, respectively.
Companies have invested in nurturing female talent and boosting the pipeline for risk leaders through targeted initiatives. This could be through specialised learning programmes, mentoring/coaching, celebrating achievements of women colleagues, to name a few.
For example, in Deloitte, we launched the Women in Cyber programme in 2021 and this year we have launched Women in Risk Advisory – a global campaign to create awareness and attract talent. Through this initiative, we celebrate the women who imagine new possibilities, connecting trust, resilience, and security to make an impact that matters.
What efforts should organisations put in to help women risk professionals advance?
I believe there are four critical components in enabling women in their risk management professional journeys:
Break the bias – everyone in the organisation needs to be educated on the importance of having a diverse team to make meaningful contributions to serve clients’ needs. Conscious efforts need to be taken in making this a part of the corporate culture by establishing policies that address this systemic bias.
Equal opportunity – I had mentioned this earlier as well, risk management is a discipline that isn’t a degree as such, but it is built based on core observation and peripheral thinking developed via experience and exposure to diverse opportunities. It is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure that those opportunities are created, and a good mix of genders are provided a chance based on their competencies and potential to grow in this dynamic field.
Experiential learning – The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. Risks are constantly challenging us, and we cannot be left behind. Staying one step ahead of risks involves abilities to adapt and be agile. Along with providing the academic learning opportunities, training programmes, certifications, etc. to improve expertise in specific areas of risk management, immersive learning experiences become critical for women to be valuable risk management professionals to wear multiple hats as the situation calls for it – as an innovator, as a problem solver, as a company stakeholder, as a leader, etc.
Mentoring – Although globally organisations have less than 10% women in leadership roles (Deloitte Women in the Boardroom report), the numbers look even lower in India. However, there are strong examples of women achievers in nearly every organisation. Aspiring women risk professionals should be engaged in a mentorship programme where they are tagged to female leaders within or outside the organisations to guide them through their career on decision-making, opportunities, learning areas and soft skills. As women, they are also able to learn from the obstacles that these leaders had to overcome to make their place in the corporate world. Mentorship programmes in particular have proven to be integral in the grooming of women leaders and creating a strong pipeline. Risk leaders fall under this category as well.
Your advice to women risk professionals looking to advance their careers in risk?
The nature of risk management makes it a very challenging career. Every organisation is pushing the diversity agenda, particularly in this discipline, due to the proven value that you as women bring to the table.
If you are looking to continuously learn in your journey as a risk professional, if you would like to push your boundaries in managing the unimaginable, if you want to set yourself apart from your peers, we need more women like you.
And I assure you, risk management as a discipline is better off with you in it.