Arundhati Bhattacharya: A Woman Rising

1 year ago / by Team SEEMA
Arundhati Bhattacharya
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Powerful women across the globe are still a dime a dozen. Their presence is still not as well known as most men, whether in America or elsewhere on an international scale. But when you hear a story like Arundhati Bhattacharya’s, it’s almost as though you’ve found a needle in a haystack. She is one of the most influential and powerful women in South Asia, and she doesn’t follow the status quo. She sets it. Her career as a Chairperson of the State Bank of India is the gold standard for personal and financial excellence. The question is, how did she get there?

An Early Journey

Born on March 18, 1956, Arundhati Bhattacharya was raised in the Indian countryside. Her upbringing happened in Bokaro, a town that was noted for its massive steel industry. Her father was a steel factory worker, and his income was what sustained her and her family throughout her developmental years. The family was a major part of India’s working class at that time. Her mother was a homeopathic consultant for a private medical company in their hometown, and that was enough to set the pace for Arundhati to start achieving success right from an early age.

Arundhati had access to a fine education straight from the start. She attended primary and secondary school at St. Xavier. The discipline she learned from a Catholic education was something she applied throughout her life. She became a self-starter whose motivation spread without bounds, and she soon began to blossom at an early age.

The College Years

The mere chance of attending an elite school is an honor unto itself. Arundhati Bhattacharya certainly received that honor as a young woman when she applied and was accepted into Lady Brabourne College in her hometown. Lady Brabourne College was founded in 1939 as a much smaller institution than it is today. The school had humble beginninngs when it started inside a small rented home as part of a government initiative to encourage young Muslim women to advance their education and their career chances. Soon, other ethnic groups such as Hindus and Sikhs joined their ranks and made it the firmly established institution that it is today.

It wasn’t too long before the school expanded to include a vast roster of VIP alums, with Arundhati herself being among them. She’s taken her place among diplomats, scientists and university chancellors, all of whom made the alum list of the college. She would soon carve a name for herself out in the world.

Rising Through the Ranks

As a child who grew up in the tiny town of Bokaro, Arundhati became ambitious. This started at a young age with her mother. Even as a homeopathic consultant, her mother had received nothing in the way of a formal college education. Yet she instilled in Arundhati and her sisters the importance of higher education from an early age on. The lack of a degree appeared to haunt her mother, which was something Arundhati never forgot.

Once she began her college education, Arundhati took an initial interest in literature and language. She started changing gears with a job offer in 1977 when she was hired as a probationary officer for the State Bank of India in 1977. At this point, Arundhati still considered herself strictly a literature buff, which was something that stuck with her as a youth. As a new bank employee, she doubted her ability to work with numbers. But she would soon prove herself wrong.

Hidden Talents Unearthed

Arundhati continued working with SBI for a long time. In fact, she would spend the next 36 years of her life working for the company. It was there that she learned that she had other abilities besides literature, and this led to a vast hodgepodge of different duties that were in the banking industry at that time.

After serving as the probationary officer for SBI, Arundhati Bhattacharya went through several roles. She worked with foreign exchange, which dealt with swapping foreign currency for domestic money. From there, she went on to work in customer service before moving on to human resources. After spending time there, she continued moving up the ladder. She went on to work with investments, and that helped her gain some much needed career experience. Arundhati led several projects within the State Bank of India. She was the head of one division within the company before rising to the next level. For her, that would be a career as a major banking leader.

Shattering the Glass Ceiling

India has a long history of gender gaps in education and the workforce. In recent years, the gap for education has gradually closed, with more and more women graduating from the university and beyond. The workforce still paints a much bleaker picture, however. In fact, there are still far fewer women who enter the job market at only 19.9% in India, and that sets a bit of a painful precedent where the gender gap is concerned.

But that didn’t stop Arundhati Bhattacharya. Her mission in life was to gain the experience she needed in order to become a successful leader in India’s banking industry. She took every bit of her previous experience and successfully transferred her skill set to become the new Chairperson of SBI, thus succeeding Pratip Chaudhuri in that role. From all accounts, Arundhati became part of the small percentage to shatter the glass ceiling in order to pave the way for other women to succeed in their careers.

A Progressive Thinker

The needs of women in the workplace are still prevalent today, with more female employees worldwide taking time off at the dawn of motherhood. Arundhati understood this and soon began brainstorming new ideas to address these issues head on. She began implementing new programs to grant leave for women who needed time off to care for family. These programs granted a leave of absence for childbirth, child rearing, and caring for elderly family members. Time off lasted for up to two years, which worked in terms of boosting morale among female staff. She even set up free vaccines to help protect against cervical cancer, which saved a lot of lives.

An International Honoree

Forbes is an internationally known business magazine recognized for its coverage of important business updates. It is also noted for acknowledging top thinkers and entrepreneurs worldwide. Arundhati Bhattacharya was named the 25th Most Powerful Woman in the World for her extraordinary leadership and quick thinking style.

Her achievements landed her other accolades from international publishers. Foreign Policy Magazine bestowed the honor of Top 100 Global Thinkers for her innovative workplace initiatives for women. And on top of that, she took her place among her peers by ranking 4th among the most powerful women of Asia.

With her 36-year career in banking, Arundhati earned much respect in the global community. Although she could retire now, it appears as though there’s no stopping her now. After her retirement from banking in late 2017, she pursued a variety of business leadership roles with other companies.

Wrapping It Up

Today, Arundhati Bhattacharya continues her involvement in India’s business climate as a leader and an activist. Her workplace initiatives for women gave female staff more leverage in the banking industry. But her career now takes her beyond banking and into other marketing companies in India. She was hired at Salesforce as a chairperson when the pandemic started. She had the exact same role with SWIFT Payments of India and has served as an independent director for two major marketing companies within the region. Her vast multitude of career experiences and personal interests make Arundhati Bhattacharya an inspiration for many generations to come.