Biz Divas Foundation's CEO, Sarika Bhattacharyya, talks to Business Today about how women are faring on boards and the challenges they face. Excerpts:
How do women on Indian broads fare compared to globally? Have women been traditionally ignored on the boards across the world?
India ranks 26th globally in this matter with Norway leading the pack. The last estimates globally were taken in 2013 but since then we have increased our percentage from 7 per cent to current 14 per cent. Most of the countries including the US have a very low percentage of women on boards. The countries which made the strides in this space including Norway also had legislation to make it mandatory. The challenges largely are: deep rooted biases and stereotypes, lack of access to board network or affiliation to old boys' network; lack of transparency & information while appointing on boards; low visibility for women leaders
How are companies responding to the mandate of having women on boards? Is it more of a compliance issue for them?
Since 2014 to now, the numbers have increased. So in that sense, the mandate has been fulfilled. But looking at the fact that 50 per cent of the women appointed on the boards are family/relatives of the promoters- it fails for the reasons it was mandated. Most of the organisations are putting a tick mark on the box, but I believe we need to start somewhere. In a few years' time, when these organisations (however few) will see the benefits of appointing women on boards, some case studies would be created. This would drive the impetus to create this as a business agenda rather than as a mandate.
What are the big gaps that need to be addressed to get more women on boards?
In our survey, Indian women reported workplace biases to a much higher degree than their counterparts in other emerging markets: 45 per cent feel that they experience bias on account of their gender, a view with which their male counterparts concur. One of the most important reasons why women professionals have inhibitions about joining the board is that they do not feel 'ready' for it. Lack of clarity of responsibilities and lack of opportunities for being trained and mentored is one obstacle that many women face. Also, there is lack of information on vacancies and most of the women don't have access to networks.
Was legislation the only way to bring more women on broads?
While positive affirmation like legislative quota is always a good way to start, but there has to be many systematic changes that need to be made. The mindsets and societal bias of seeing women in leadership positions are slowly but surely changing. This needs a lot of awareness, sensitisation and commitment from organisations. Also, there has to be a lot of impetus to create a central database of senior women leaders who can be on boards along with transparency of vacant board positions.
How do you see women representation on boards faring from here on India?
I believe the positive impact on organisations' profitability, corporate governance and the changed mindsets will help to further the cause. It has to be seen as a business imperative and then only in true sense it can be successful.
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