Many companies have opted to induct family members, like wives and daughters, as directors in a last-minute dash to meet a regulatory deadline that require stock market-listed firms to appoint at least one woman director on their boards. Yet, more than hundred companies were still to appoint a woman to their boards by the deadline that ended Tuesday. This isn’t quite a happy augury.
Gender equity, particularly in leadership positions, should be a given for a country that is set to become the world’s primary growth engine this year.
To be fair, it is not in India alone that corporate boardroom positions are heavily skewed in favour of men. According to an August 2014 report by Biz Divas, a professional women’s network, about 20% of the world’s 200 top companies had no women directors. India’s move making it mandatory for listed companies to appoint at least one woman as an independent director is also seen in some other economies, particularly in Europe. For instance, Norway has made it compulsory for large-sized companies to induct women on their boards. In 10 years, the proportion of women in the boards of Norwegian companies has risen dramatically— from 7% in 2003 to 41% currently.
At the same time, there is no evidence to suggest that economic size or maturity will guarantee greater gender equity in boardrooms. The data suggest that the United States, China and Japan, where there are no binding quotas, have recorded the slowest increase in the number of female directors on companies’ boards in the last few years. Among others, this is indicative of a trend that needs immediate correction.
A few recent trends in India are, however, encouraging. More and more women are taking over as corporate bosses, breaking through the glass ceiling in industries that were earlier considered male-only bastions — from premium liquor companies and coffee chains to oil-drilling giants. In other words, the pool of women in C-Suite positions — a term widely used to collectively describe a company’s most important senior executives — in industries that were led mostly by male executives until not so recently is growing rapidly.
That said, there is still a great distance to traverse. India’s young demography is a well-documented global story. However, there is much more to the human capital of a country than a headcount of the workforce. It is also about quality and casting the net wide to make the labour market more gender equitable. For a country where parents in many pockets still treasure boys over girls, tapping the wealth of women’s talent, who potentially account for half of India’s workforce, is critical for reaping the much-touted demographic dividend.