Tanu Anand, a tax accountant with 13 years of experience with multinational firms in India, Singapore and Hong Kong, lost hope of resuming her high-flying career after having a baby.
“I sat at home for eight months rather depressed and very low in confidence. All of a sudden here I was, this person with all this international experience with top firms, sitting there with no opportunities,” said Anand, 36.
A new law may have forced the industry to open the boardroom doors to women, but years of sidelining them has led to a high dropout rate among professionals like Anand — resulting in a shortage of women to fill such positions.
Around 530 out of 5,711 listed firms have been fined by the BSE for not having at least one woman director by the deadline. Other companies appointed relatives such as wives and mothers-in-law who are seen as proxies.
According to a report by Catalyst nearly half of Indian women drop off the corporate employment ladder compared with 29% across Asia as a whole.
The main reason cited is the lack of support given to women who want to return to work after having a baby, such as extended maternity leave, crèche facilities and flexible hours.
Several studies crepeatedly show that board diversity leads to better performance in terms of productivity and profitability.
Yet, despite increased efforts by companies and governments to lift the number of women in senior corporate roles, their presence remains stubbornly low.
In India, just 7.7% of board seats are held by women in India, compared with 17.5% in South Africa and 15.6% in the UK, according to a Deloitte report.
As in other countries, Indian women climbing the corporate ladder face the usual unconscious gender biases, being perceived as unambitious, not capable enough, or misplaced home makers, .
“Bosses often think that due to family commitments, women cannot stay late in the office,. As a result, women are often passed over for promotions,” said Sarika Bhattacharyya, co-founder of Biz Divas, a non-profit promoting female leadership.
Anand’s fate changed in May when she saw a post from multinational Genpact, looking for qualified women wanting to return to work, but within a flexible environment. “The way it is today is that I work hard to strict deadlines but I work with my own flexibilities. This gives me the opportunity to oversee my young child as well,” she said.