Bringing Broads on Boards
Tell the truth: When was the last time you saw a woman walk into the corner office at work? Or any office of her own, for that matter?
Probably not any time recently. In fact, if your office is like most companies in India, 40% of the total employees are women, but only 6% percent are represented on board level.
Because the absence of women on boards is so painfully obvious, policy makers are forcing companies to get serious about promoting gender equality in the workplace. The new Companies Act requires every public company which has share capital of more than Rs 100 crore or a turnover of over Rs 300 crore to have at least one woman director. Moreover, the capital market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), has mandated that all listed companies do the same, and comply by October 1 of this year. This means that companies like Reliance Industries, ITC, Tata Motors, and Larsen & Tuobro will soon be adding the feminine perspective to their decision-making for the first time in their corporate history.
It’s important to remember that the abysmal number of women at the board level today is a result of several factors that include, and also go beyond, petty sexism. For example, other socio-cultural issues like female foeticide, marginalisation of females in higher education, and low female literacy also pose challenges for companies looking to hire and promote women. Moreover, India is still struggling with the cultural mind-block against working women, owing largely to the redundant and archaic concepts of division of labour between men and women.
That said, we’re excited about this much needed opportunity for companies to increase diversity on corporate boards. Equal opportunity is not merely an option—it’s a necessity.
The new Companies Act is exciting not only because deserving women who may have previously been systematically denied access to the top can finally take the reins, but also because equal representation at the highest level of the corporate sector is crucial to amplifying women’s voices in the sector as a whole. Corporations are also starting to see that more diversity leads to better decision-making, and ultimately, better business.
The women’s quota on corporate boards in India is a small step, yet has the potential to ripple change that will break gender stereotypes and sexism in the workplace and allow equal opportunities for all. Having more women in executive and board positions also will created leadership opportunities for other women more than almost any other factors. It’s self-perpetuating: When women see others achieve and be successful, they can envision themselves doing the same, and that accelerates change.
To the lady readers out there — Let’s not rely on the law to be heard; we can take small steps in our own lives to amplify our own voices as well. Let’s not be hindered by imaginary future obligations of in-laws, husbands, and children. Instead, let’s focus on pushing forward with our goals and dreams here and now. When choosing a partner, let’s have frank and open conversations about sharing household duties, and why it may be important to you, too, to pursue your goals and ambitions, and how that will ultimately benefit your relationship and stability as a family. Make it work. Because when you shine, you bring a multitude of others with you.
So, Badal ja!—It’s time to bring our broads onto our boards, and keep them there.