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Power to perform

A handful of organisations wants more Arjundas is MD & CEO of Mahindra women in high places.

Shamni Pande        Print Edition: Nov 28, 2010

When Vinita Bali joined Britannia Industries in 2006 as CEO, there were just three women out of 192 managers at the Bangalore-headquartered foods company. The story is a bit different today.

Britannia has 42 women managers out of a total of 265. At the entry level half of those recruited are women. "There is still some way to go," says 53-year-old Bali. "Although 22 per cent of our staff are women, ideally we would like the gender ratio to be 1:1."

Sonal Agrawal, Chief Executive, Accord Group
Sonal Agrawal
Are Britannia, Bali and the good maidens at the biscuits major an aberration in corporate India? The statistics may tend to suggest so. A study by EMA Partners, a global senior executive search firm, reveals that just 11 per cent of 240 large companies in India have women as CEOs. A report called Women on Corporate Boards in India 2010 by Standard Chartered Bank points out that only 5.3 per cent of the board positions at the companies that constitute the BSE-100 are held by women. If that wasn't enough, a recent global report on gender gap by the World Economic Forum ranks India 128th out of 134 countries on the parameter of "economic achievement in involving women and offering them adequate opportunities".

Padma Ravichander, a former head of Mercer India, shared her experience at a recent closed-door "Women Leaders Forum" hosted by leading executive search firm, Spencer Stuart: "Through my 27 years in IT, until as recently as two years ago, I would be the single female representative amongst a horde of men in the boardroom. I must admit the road is lonely and difficult but what got me through was sharing everything with my family and children."

Not enough women in high places is not just India Inc's problem. For instance, just three per cent of companies that make up the Fortune 500 have women CEOs. In the United Kingdom, the FTSE 100 companies have only four women at the top.

Bali, a former Cadbury's and Coca-Cola executive, is no stranger to being a minority in the boardroom. She was the only director on the boards of Coca-Cola in Nigeria and South Africa and only the third category president ever at Coke. However, back home Bali believes things are changing quickly. "We want our company to be a microcosm of the society we operate in," she says. "There is a backlog, but we're headed in the right direction."

"Many organisations today are seeking to improve their gender diversity count in their leadership ranks…we have already prepared a shortlist of women leaders," says Sonal Agrawal, Chief Executive, Accord Group, a search firm that specialises in hunting CXOs. "Of course, no one will hire women just to correct numbers. Their merit is the eventual qualifier. It is the overall fit that mattters the most," says Anjali Bansal, Managing Partner, Spencer Stuart India.

 O woman, where art thou?

Few women make it to the top in business…

  • Just 11 per cent of 240 large companies in India have women CEOs, according to a study by EMA Partners
  • Only 5.3 per cent board positions on India's BSE-100 companies are held by women, reveals a report from Standard Chartered Bank
  • A recent report by the World Economic Forum ranks India at 128 out of 134 countries on the parameter of involving women and offering them adequate opportunities

... although a few companies are trying to change that

  • 14.5 per cent of M&M's global workforce of 1.2 lakh are women. The endeavor is to take that number up to 50 per cent
  • Maruti has doubled the number of women in the workforce over the past three years
  • 22 per cent of Britannia's employees are women; CEO Vinita Bali wants to take that up to 50 per cent
  • 50 per cent of the 250 lawyers at AZB & Partners are women
An organisation that has made significant progress in having women leaders at various levels is ironically one that is famous for its rugged vehicles that drip more of machismo rather than of daintiness. Tractor and commercial vehicle, or CV, maker Mahindra & Mahindra, or M&M, has two women leading operations at two key companies, both in real estate development: Anita A handful of organisations wants more Arjundas is MD & CEO of Mahindra Lifespaces; and Sangeeta Prasad is COO at Mahindra World City Developers.

The punch line: The M&M designer who played a key role in blueprinting the Scorpio CV is a woman - Kripa Ananthan, who oversees styling and designing at the CV maker. Marketers may seek to woo prospective male buyers to CVs with ads depicting ruggedness and bluster. But the fact of the matter, at least at M&M, is that the vehicle targeted at males went through the deft touches of a woman when it was on the drawing board.

Some 14.5 per cent of M&M's employees across the globe are women. The company firmly believes that gender diversity is essential for innovation. "We believe diversity will go a long way in driving our vision," says Rajeev Dubey, President (Group HR & After-Market) & Member of Group Executive Board, M&M.

Encouragingly, women are willing to make a break with tradition and join manufacturing and core sectors that were hitherto considered the sole purview of men. At carmaker Maruti Suzuki, for instance, the gender ratio has changed drastically in the past few years. "Compared to three years ago, our female employee numbers have doubled, as the auto industry increasingly becomes a preferred choice as a career option for women," points out S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer-Administration (HR, Finance & IT) at Maruti Suzuki India.

It helps when women who are heading some of India's most respected corporations take the initiative to get more women on board. As Bali says: "Successful icons give women entering the business the reassurance that they too can make an impact."

Lintas Media Group, which has Lynn de Souza at the helm, has rolled out an internal media campaign called "Equal and Opposite" to improve gender balance in leadership roles. The project is being driven by the Women's Leadership Network of the Interpublic Group, Lintas's international holding company. Adds Leena Nair, Executive Director, HR, Hindustan Unilever, the first woman to enter the boardroom at the consumer goods and foods giant. "Through my career I have been led by senior women role models and today the women in my organisation experience the same phenomenon."

Lifespaces; and Sangeeta Prasad is COO at Mahindra World City Developers. The punch line: The M&M designer who played a key role in blueprinting the Scorpio CV is a woman - Kripa Ananthan, who oversees styling and designing at the CV maker. Marketers may seek to woo prospective male buyers to CVs with ads depicting ruggedness and bluster. But the fact of the matter, at least at M&M, is that the vehicle targeted at males went through the deft touches of a woman when it was on the drawing board.

Anjali Bansal, Managing Partner, Spencer Stuart India
Anjali Bansal
Some 14.5 per cent of M&M's employees across the globe are women. The company firmly believes that gender diversity is essential for innovation. "We believe diversity will go a long way in driving our vision," says Rajeev Dubey, President (Group HR & After-Market) & Member of Group Executive Board, M&M.

Encouragingly, women are willing to make a break with tradition and join manufacturing and core sectors that were hitherto considered the sole purview of men. At carmaker Maruti Suzuki, for instance, the gender ratio has changed drastically in the past few years. "Compared to three years ago, our female employee numbers have doubled, as the auto industry increasingly becomes a preferred choice as a career option for women," points out S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer-Administration (HR, Finance & IT) at Maruti Suzuki India.

It helps when women who are heading some of India's most respected corporations take the initiative to get more women on board. As Bali says: "Successful icons give women entering the business the reassurance that they too can make an impact."

Lintas Media Group, which has Lynn de Souza at the helm, has rolled out an internal media campaign called "Equal and Opposite" to improve gender balance in leadership roles. The project is being driven by the Women's Leadership Network of the Interpublic Group, Lintas's international holding company. Adds Leena Nair, Executive Director, HR, Hindustan Unilever, the first woman to enter the boardroom at the consumer goods and foods giant. "Through my career I have been led by senior women role models and today the women in my organisation experience the same phenomenon.

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