Women on Boards: Unconscious Biases & Gender Stereotypes in India Inc.

Businesswomen in India have moved a step closer to greater representation in the boardroom after the company law in 2014 made it mandatory for one woman to be present in every boardroom in the country. Champions of greater diversity contend that women representation bring in diverse perspectives and collaborative style of leadership in organizational performance. While many have hailed this law as the real crack in the glass ceiling, critics question whether compulsory targets are the best way for women to finally smash through.

Unconscious Biases and Gender Stereotypes in India Inc.

I don’t support quotas or tokenism, but while doing research on Boardroom Diversity & its impact on economic performance, I realized that there are still unconscious biases and gender stereotypes present at the leadership levels in India Inc. Governments across the globe have introduced quotas to create a level playing field for many minorities in the system. Norway, Sweden, France and Italy have mandatory quotas for women representation of 40% on the Boards. UK has set a target of achieving a minimum of 30% women in FTSE-100 boards. Female representation in the NIFTY 500, which was at 5% as on 31 March 2012, has increased to 13% as on 31 March 2017. A large proportion of women directors (60%) are independent – which is contrary to the popular notion that women directors are only getting appointed from the promoter family to comply with the regulations.*

But we still have a long way to go. Women are still underrepresented in leadership and decision-making roles despite having a strong talent pool.

While a large number of companies are compliant with the law of appointing more than one woman director on their board, some PSUs are still yet to appoint a woman director.

So why, in 2017, does this inequity persist?

The truth is, it’s not hard to find qualified women to serve on corporate boards. Research suggests that the still-existent old boys’ network and references fill all the board positions. Companies may consider modifying their board criteria to broaden the pool of candidates. Experts believe boards need to recognize that they shouldn’t be recruiting members based on subject-matter knowledge but rather should be seeking “effective leaders”. After all, it has to be “best fit” for the position or role. It is said that one woman in the board is token, two is a presence and three is a voice. It is true that “Power of Three” works in the boardroom as well.

Here’s to the wave of change that is very much the need of the hour and is on its way.

Picture Credit: livemint.com

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(*Ref: Research Corporate India: Women on Boards by Prime Database).

Sarika Bhattacharyya, CEO, BD Foundation is an Inclusion Strategist with more than 20 years of corporate experience. Sarika is an avid reader, dabbles in painting and an enthusiastic traveller.