COVER STORY – Women in India Inc’s Boardroom 0

Representation of women in corporate boardrooms of India has been abysmally low, however, with the government's mandate, it is slowly evolving. Although a large number of organisations today are gradually getting more inclusive, the rate of its adoption is still snail-paced. With fewer women represented at all levels, hired at all levels, and promoted at all levels in India Inc., it is crucial than ever to make targeted efforts to attract, develop, and retain talented women.

Deepening understanding of workplace inclusion and equipping all employees with knowledge and tools to remedy inequities across intersections of identity (such as gender, race, caste, culture or sexual orientation). Build leadership who can exemplify what it takes to create and sustain inclusive workplaces.

The world over, there has been a demand for diversity in the workplace. In India, a lot of organisations have raised red flags over the poor representation of women in the boardroom. A large majority of the women appointed in leadership roles have professional experience and expertise. They now have more say on board composition and executive remuneration, with the highest proportion of women in the Nomination and Remuneration Committees at 18%. This improvement was driven by regulatory efforts.

The Companies Act, 2013, made it mandatory for boards to have at least one woman director from April 1, 2014. SEBI then embedded this requirement in its Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements regulations. On May 9, 2018, following the recommendations by the Kotak Committee, the Securities and Exchange Board of India mandated that top 500 companies by market value were required to appoint at least one woman as an independent director by April 1, 2019. The deadline for the next 500 was April 1, 2020. India Inc.’s boardrooms are evolving, slowly but surely, to accommodate women, largely because of the regulation.

A large number of organisations today, realise the need for having more women in the boardroom in order to improve diversity. They understand that they need more women in the corner offices as role models, which will go on to encourage more to join the workforce. From ensuring women are treated as equals to women-specific policies, there are various points of view. So, what can bring about diversity? Progress for women is progress for everyone. I would divide the efforts that organisations need to take into four key areas:

  • Advancing Women: Increasing the representation of women in corporate leadership and promoting equal access to career opportunities.
  • Women and the Organisation Culture: Developing solutions for women to have full participation and equal opportunity in the 21st-century workplace.
  • Lead for Equity and Inclusion: Deepening understanding of workplace inclusion and equipping all employees with knowledge and tools to remedy inequities across intersections of identity (such as gender, race, caste, culture or sexual orientation). Build leadership who can exemplify what it takes to create and sustain inclusive workplaces.
  • MARC (Men Advocating Real Change): Engaging men to leverage their influence to advocate for gender equity in the workplace.
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In order to address gaps and identify opportunities for impact and strategies for making real change, organisations need to develop a focus on attracting women and other diverse talent. Organisations in India are increasingly focused on the foundational details necessary for gender diversity, such as providing a safe, welcoming work environment for women, ensuring anti-sexual harassment training, and developing innovative recruiting strategies designed to attract women. However, most organisations do not hold senior leaders accountable for D&I results and therefore often these strategies do not have much success.

Flexible work arrangements are increasingly becoming the norm, and are an important instrument to retain top talent, especially for women and those who battle dual pressures from home and work. Most Indian organisations have flexible work policies on paper, but the true measure is the utilisation of these policies, which might indicate that employees hesitate to use these flexible work arrangements in the absence of a truly inclusive culture.

Flexible work arrangements are increasingly becoming the norm, and are an important instrument to retain top talent, especially for women and those who battle dual pressures from home and work. Click To Tweet

Generous employee leave options, especially for maternity leave, and a high return rate paints a promising picture on the surface. Yet, digging deeper, sometimes these are not supplemented by post-leave reintegration efforts. Several organisations do not have a fair means of evaluating employee performance after a return from a long break. For women seeking to reconcile their role as a mother with their desire to grow in their career, these hurdles sometimes prove too difficult to overcome. Organisations need to meet women halfway by offering reintegration programs for returning parents and a fair method of assessing performance after a significant time away from the office.

“While many organisations offer leadership development programs, few of them offer programs geared specifically toward women. Even general programs target high potentials and senior leaders, which means that men are likelier than women to have access.”

While many organisations offer leadership-development programs, few of them offer programs geared specifically toward women. Even general programs target high potentials and senior leaders, which means that men are likelier than women to have access. Focussed development of women will help gear them for leadership roles and add to potential entrants to boardrooms.

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Every organisation needs to develop holistic end-to-end solutions and equip women with the strategy and tools they need to make a change to the way they work and measure impact at their organizations. Employee networks or employee resource groups, especially women’s networks, seem to be increasing in India. But often they appear to be largely unrelated to sustainable business impact.

With fewer women represented at all levels, hired at all levels, and promoted at all levels in India Inc., it is crucial to make targeted efforts to attract, develop, and retain talented women. The good news is that this is a focus area in some organisations and therefore this will help in women succeeding in more areas of life than ever before! Hopefully, this will directly impact the number of Women in India Inc’s boardrooms.

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President & Group Head Human Resources, Thomas Cook India Ltd. Mona Cheriyan is currently the President & Group Head Human Resources of Thomas Cook India Ltd. She is responsible for the Strategy, Leadership Development, Employee Engagement and other HR functions at the Group level. Prior to Thomas Cook, Mona was the HR Director and member of the Advisory Board of ASK Investment Managers Pvt Ltd. Before her stint in ASK, she was with Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd as General Manager – Employee Engagement & Europe Liaison. With over 30 years of rich and varied experience, she has worked with NIIT and the ESSAR group and provided consulting services in the area of HR Strategy and Systems. She has also been associated with campuses viz. TISS, Symbiosis, SP Jain, IIFT, Welingkar etc., as a guest lecturer. She is also a regular key speaker at various NHRD, NASSCOM, BMA & other related forums in the area of Diversity and Inclusion. Mona has been the recipient of the “Super Achievers Award” by the Indira Group of Institutes for outstanding achievement in the field of Human Resources in 2007, the “HR Leadership Award” awarded by the Employer Branding Awards in 2008 and the “Women Super Achiever Award” awarded by the World HRD Congress for 2009 and 2016 and the “Most Influential HR Leader” award in 2017.

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