The world has finally realised that gender parity or equality in all fields is a crucial parameter of growth for not only developed economies but also developing ones like India. The World Economic Forums Global Gender Gap Report 2021, which was released recently, reveals that over the last year, India has slipped 28 places to be ranked 140 among 156 countries. Instead of being able to bridge the divide, Indias gender gap has widened by 62.5 per cent, mainly due to inadequate representation of and leadership roles for women in all professions right from politics to healthcare and finance.This dismal position indicates that efforts to increase opportunities for employment and participation in all economic sectors for women are the greatest need of the hour. Despite this position, which may also be attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 (which not only interrupted outreach programmes like MUDRA but also affected all tiers of jobs), one must acknowledge the fact that women in industries like finance have been able to make a huge impact over the last few decades. In the finance sector, this impact can be easily traced by listing the number of women bankers, financiers, and investors who have made it to the top of their field and hold some of the most powerful positions.The rise of Indian banking and how it affected womenA key factor behind this rise of Indian women in finance has been the well-charted growth of the Indian banking and financial services sector. In 1969, the government of India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, nationalised 14 of Indias largest banks--a move which directly led to increased job opportunities for women in the sector. A study titled Women Participation in Indian Banking Sector: Issues and Challenges, published in the International Journal of Science and Research in 2014, shows that attractive salaries, secured family life, favourable working conditions and stability at work made the banking sector a prime job-provider for women in the 1970s.Though the entry of women during these decades was at clerical levels, slow-yet-steady career progressions led to women reaching the top echelons of the financial sector in the late-1990s and 2000s. A study undertaken by the Self-Employed Womens Association (SEWA) Bharat in 2018-19, titled Employment Opportunities for Women in Indias Growing Financial Sector, revealed that as of 2014, women accounted for 22 per cent of overall employment in all standard chartered banks in India. Women at high and managerial positions in the financial sector account for 11 per cent of the workforce, which may fall below the global percentage of 16 per cent, but is still significantly high.At the helm of this workforce are many women leaders who have achieved some of the highest ranks, and are constantly inspiring the next generation of women entering the field. The following are the top seven women in finance in India today.Kalpana MorpariaA trained lawyer from Government Law College, Mumbai, Kalpana Morparia went down her illustrious career path after joining ICICI Bank in 1975, where she worked for 33 years. As a corporate lawyer, her role was to facilitate corporate financing in both domestic and international markets. In the mid-1990s, she was asked to head the treasury department of the bank and contributed to ICICI Banks listing in the New York Stock Exchange (the second financial company from Asia to do so) in 1999. In 2008, Morparia retired from ICICI Bank and was hired as the first CEO of JP Morgan South Asia and South East Asiaa role she is expected to step down from this year. Her long career and global reputation makes Morparia one of the most powerful women in finance, not just in India but in South Asia.Naina Lal KidwaiNaina Lal Kidwai is a pathbreaker among Indian women in finance in so many ways: she was the first Indian woman to get an MBA from Harvard Business School, the first woman president of the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and the first woman to run the operations of a foreign bank in India. She was recruited as the Group General Manager and Country Head of HSBC Bank in 2002, and retired from the role in 2015. As one of the most reputed Indian women in finance, Kidwai continues to speak her mind about investment banking in India (which was her forte) and green finance (any financial initiative which helps protect the environment or manages environmental impact) while also being the celebrated author of books like Survive or Sink.Alice G VaidyanInsurance is a key sector in the larger financial industry, and if theres a woman whose name is instantly recognisable and renowned in this field, its Alice G Vaidyan. Vaidyan began her career at New India Assurance Company in 1983, and then moved to General Insurance Corporation (GIC) in 2008. She was initially hired as GICs General Manager, promoted to Chairman Managing Director (CMD) in 2016, and retired from her post in 2019. Vaidyan was the first woman to become the CMD of a company in the insurance sector, and currently holds the position of Non-Executive Director, Board of Directors, Geojit Financial Services Ltd.Arundhati BhattacharyaEveryone knows that the State Bank of India (SBI) is Indias oldest bank, and that you need a steady set of hands to keep a ship of this size on its course. And thats just what Arundhati Bhattacharya, the first woman to ever head this giant in the banking sector, did when she was appointed Chairwoman in 2013. So noteworthy were her contributions--especially during the merger of SBIs five associate banks in 2017that she was listed by Forbes as the 25th Most Powerful Woman in the World in 2016. Bhattacharya spent 40 years in service of SBI, and retired from her post in 2017. She is currently the chairperson and CEO of Salesforce India.Shyamala GopinathThere is no way the Indian economy can function without the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), so, its natural to assume that only the best get to man its wheels. Shyamala Gopinath, who joined the RBI in 1972, helped steer the bank through many economic and national crises, including the Kargil war (1999) and the millennium bond redemption (2000). This not only ensured that she rose through the ranks at the RBI but was also appointed its Deputy Governor in 2004 clearly marking her place as one of the most powerful women in finance. Gopinath held this position for seven years, and continued to avert crisis during the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy (2008). After retiring from the RBI, Gopinath was appointed as Chairperson of HDFC Bank in 2015, and help the position for three years.Shikha SharmaShikha Sharma is an economist and banker who held the position of Managing Director and CEO of Axis Bank, Indias third largest private bank, between 2009 and 2018. Sharma started her career with ICICI Bank, gained experience at ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, and then joined Axis Bank as its head in 2009. Her focus on enlarging Axis banks investment banking, strengthening its retail lending franchise, and developing a comprehensive portfolio of banking products and advisory capabilities helped the banks stocks soar by 90 per cent and assets growing by 30 per cent soon after she joined them. While she may have retired in December 2018, the contributions Sharma made to the Axis Bank have helped retain its reputation and ensure her legacy in the Indian banking sector.Shanti EkambaramCurrently the Group President of Consumer Banking at Kotak Mahindra, Indias fourth largest private bank, Shanti Ekambaram managed to steer her company through the COVID-19 pandemic with panache. She succeeded in keeping 95 per cent of the banks branches open during the lockdowns and enabled optimum functions for its zero-contact savings and deposit accounts. Since taking over this role in 2014, Ekambaram was able to scale up the banks operations to the extent that mobile banking volumes jumped 172 per cent and the average savings account balance grew by 59 per cent. After launching its digitally-enabled bank accounts in 2018, the banks customers grew from eight million in 2017 to 14.5 million within a year. Is it any wonder then that Ekambaram was ranked 16th on Fortune Indias Most Powerful Women list of 2018? Given her career trajectory, its quite likely that Ekambaram will indeed continue to be one of Indias most powerful women in finance in the coming years.