AraratBank Fostering Gender Equality: Stories of Female Leadership Rising


AraratBank Fostering Gender Equality: Stories of Female Leadership Rising

Regional Post sat down with three exceptional women driving change within AraratBank. We introduce the unique stories of Executive Board member Zaruhi Melkonyan, heading the International Operations Department; Gayane Stepanyan, leading Digital Banking Services; and Executive Board member Anahit Vardanyan, serving as the Chief Accountant of AraratBank.

Interview : Hena Aposhian
Photo : AraratBank 


Since the emergence of the banking system, women have been active in the industry worldwide. Although their involvement was often overlooked and limited to administrative positions, that changed throughout the years, especially during times of war or economic crisis when they stepped in to fill in the vacancies left by men. Now, women’s active presence in the banking industry not only promotes gender equality but also brings a more profound array of perspectives, organizational skills, and broader insights.

Since 1991, with an impressive number of female employees, AraratBank has diligently worked to ensure customer satisfaction and foster an inclusive corporate culture that sustains equality and enhances the welfare of all its employees. In 2022, AraratBank reiterated its dedication to female empowerment, joining the UN Women Empowerment Program (WEPs). Since AraratBank has already been guided by these principles, they did not have to assume commitment to follow the project values: they have joined the project and are developing an effective cooperation. The latter initiative advances women’s empowerment across the community, business sector, and workplace. 
As of March 31, 2023, with 50 branches and an average workforce of 1058, 66% of AraratBank’s employees are women, holding 1⁄3 leadership positions. 



The First Steps 

Zaruhi Melkonyan is a member of the Executive Board and the Head of the International Transactions Department at AraratBank. She started her career in banking at the beginning of the nineties and made her way from an entry-level position at an Armenian commercial bank to her current executive position. She joined AraratBank in January 2006 as the Head of the International Division. She built a solid female team of knowledgeable and ambitious professionals, constantly working on their professional development and keeping up-to-date with the latest international standards and practices. Under her leadership, the small division has grown into a complex multifunctional department for international transactions, responsible for a wide range of international operations, with an efficient correspondent network and partnerships worldwide. Over the same period, the Bank transformed from a small local bank with a few customers into one of the leading financial institutions in Armenia, with international recognition and achievements. “Both my parents worked in the financial sector, so I was no stranger to the environment. Yet we had a role to fulfill in our society, and that’s why we always valued our customers, especially women,” Ms. Melkonyan recalls.

One of the Bank’s newer members with solid math and programming knowledge, Gayane Stepanyan, is the former Head of Haypost’s Banking Services and Money Transfers Department and has been the Director of Armenia’s largest fintech company, IDram, for 11 years. She significantly contributed to the establishment of the e-money sector and joined AraratBank in 2018 as the Head of the Digital Banking Department. Once she joined the team, they created the mobile banking app. “It is considered one of the best and most user-friendly mobile banking solutions in Armenia in terms of UX, services, simplicity, and safety,” Gayane proudly admits. Our third speaker, Anahit Vardanyan, began her journey as an intern in the AraratBank’s Accounting department after graduating from the Armenian State University of Economics in 2008. Fast-forward to 2012, she became the Head of the Reporting Division. In 2023, she was assigned as the Chief Accountant and eventually Executive Board member. 


Gayane Stepanyan, Head of Digital Banking Services


Balance And Details 

Although many of the Bank’s employees are women, Ms. Melkonyan and her team continuously work to make the Bank an even more appealing workplace for women. “If our female team members are on maternity leave, we send them webinar offers and recordings and keep updating them on the latest developments so that they don’t fall behind. Upon their return, we provide a flexible working schedule to support them in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I managed to prove to the Bank’s management the effectiveness of flexible work hours in specific situations. This was a notable challenge within corporate practices, but now the Bank is more open to considering such schemes for future employees, recognizing the potential advantages of attracting and retaining qualified team members,” Ms. Melkonyan explains. Ms. Vardanyan reiterates this idea, highlighting the great opportunities the Bank has offered its employees in recent years, such as funding and supporting different educational programs for women employees and business development and growth. 

Although a prominent part of the Bank’s employees are now women, that wasn’t always the case. “For some time, I was the only female member of the Executive Board. Still, I never felt like the other co-workers disagreed or under-appreciated any of my opinions or suggestions. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Furthermore, my male colleagues always encouraged me and never put barriers between the two genders. As a member of the Executive Board, I constantly advocated and promoted better working conditions, more training, and career opportunities for women, making AraratBank a better place to work, grow, and develop professionally. All these, of course, with the support of my male colleagues,” explains Ms. Melkonyan. 

Ms. Stepanyan believes, “Although historically, mostly men have dominated the financial sector, I believe women are better at managing finances and budgeting. They assess risks better and hence get better results. A woman leader takes a more balanced approach, regardless of the industry.” Ms. Vardanyan agrees as she believes there is an apparent distinction between male and female leaders, as “women are quite hardworking, putting more emphasis on the details.”

When it comes to their secret of succeeding up the career ladder, all three women mention balance and support. Ms. Melkonyan says, “One must balance work and family life. Firstly, I am grateful to my parents, who, by their example, helped me choose my favorite profession. Then, indeed, I was lucky to have my husband and his family support me. A woman can never fulfill her professional goals if her family doesn’t support her. Their encouragement is essential.”
Ms. Stepanyan’s key is to “never bring your domestic issues to the workplace and vice versa. You are two different people in each space, and you need to separate them. Also, it is important to have a supportive family.”
Ms. Vardanyan’s secret is “keeping a balance between a personal and professional life, which I believe is very doable, and all the women working here are living proof of that.”


Zaruhi Melkonyan, Executive Board Member, Head of International Operations Department


Knowledge and Self-Improvement 

Despite difficulties, all three women have focused on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative throughout their careers. Ms. Melkonyan explains that many of the employees in banks in Armenia are women and that she has never witnessed discrimination or neglectfulness of women’s opinions from men throughout her career. “Ever since the Soviet Union, women in Armenia have occupied many top roles. Women here were no strangers to filling leading positions. And this has been passing on for generations now,” adds Ms. Melkonyan. 

All three of our female interviewees admit that knowledge and constant self-development are the secrets to success. Ms. Melkonyan expresses, “I always loved education, and through learning and striving for achievement, all those years of hard work paid off. It goes without saying that all my supervisors were well-educated people and leaders, and their contribution to my achievements was significant. Undoubtedly, they were pleased with the successes and achievements of their employees and always valued their employees’ learning and growing.”

Ms. Stepanyan believes, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman; as a human being, one should always acquire new knowledge, work on themselves, and keep moving forward.” 
Education and hard work are critical factors for one’s professional development, according to Ms. Vardanyan as well. She adds, “My journey is a perfect example to demonstrate that you can rapidly grow in one space, as long as your managers and colleagues are supportive. As the years went by, I worked hard on myself, leading myself to the position I hold today.”


Anahit Vardanyan, Executive Board Member, Chief Accountant


Paving the Road 

Ms. Melkonyan’s advice to women new to the industry is again about self-exploration and development: “Always work on yourself, your education, and your skills. Don’t back down, and always present yourself as you are. Don’t minimize yourself. Struggle to make a place for yourself. There’s always room for growth; always remember that. Be courageous and get educated.”

Ms. Stepanyan’s take is relatively similar. She believes the most important thing to remember is “to educate yourself constantly. When you’re strong and knowledgeable, you move forward. The most important thing in this industry is to have the knowledge and proper education, as this industry requires you to be strong, for thousands of people’s finances are trusted to you. It’s an immense responsibility that requires strength and knowledge. Strong women will pave their way in this industry.” 

Ms. Vardanyan agrees with all stated above and adds, “I credit my success to my education and hard work. This is the key to my success, and it can work for anyone else.”

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