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It’s a global malaise in a world in which those who were once called the Other Half are now equal players. But the absence of women in corporate boards in India is embarrassingly noticeable even by those standards.
Things, however, are expected to change soon under the new company law.
When advocacy group Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI) studied 200 giant companies across the world, it found only one woman in the two Indian companies that made it to the list – Indian Oil Corp and Reliance Industries Ltd.
This does not quite reflect an Indian reality in which highly educated women have begun to climb the corporate ladder.
"While there has been progress in the last four decades in the participation of women in organisations, there are less than 5% of women sitting at the top management positions," said Vasanthi Srinivasan, chairperson, centre for corporate governance and citizenship (CCGC) at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
While women directors are largely present in the financial services sector, the public sector and some family-controlled businesses, often, women to make it to the boardroom has been through family connections or on being recommended by a joint venture partner.
But things may change. As a measure to boost gender diversity, now, in India, the board of every publicly listed company will need to have at least one woman director, beginning October 1.
However, industry experts have their own concerns.
Srinivasan points to global studies where new woman directors had significantly less CEO experience than men.
According to the All India Management Association, Indian companies require 966 women directors to meet the requirements of the new law.
"And companies are struggling for prospective candidates because of the absence of consciousnesses to create women talent pipeline," said Rekha Sethi, director-general, AIMA.
"We support diverse and inclusive boards. However, quality of board is also critical and therefore the same rigour should be adopted for appointment of woman directors to the board as for men," said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general, CII.
However, Savita Mahajan, deputy dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB) does not encourage the argument.
"Concerns about lack of experience and training don’t hold much ground, because the same concerns are not expressed when men are inducted on boards for the first time!," she says, adding that even experienced women are not being roped in.
A recent study by the consulting firm Caliper found woman leaders to be stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts and more conducive to today’s diverse workplace, where information is shared freely and collaboration is vital.
That may be a clinching case to help women enter boardrooms, if not the long arm of law.