On March 24, 2015 SEBI announced that companies that fail to meet the April 1 deadline to appoint a woman director may face dire monetary and non-monetary consequences, including but not limited to a fine of Rs. 23 crores. The announcement has compelled listed companies to scamper for the appointment of a woman director. The SEBI Chief, UK Sinha, stated recently, that the inability of companies to find and appoint even one woman director is shameful. The list of potential defaulters is not limited to the obscure and smaller companies, but includes some of the most prolific companies in the Indian industry. As companies scurry to appoint a woman director within the next 1 week raises a deep-rooted question for the Indian industry- How long will organisations need to wait before they have effective woman leaders?
The next few days will surely witness companies complying with the SEBI directive and appointing women directors merely as a symbolic and stop gap gesture. It is no use denying that there is indeed a dearth of women in the industry who are ready to take on top leadership positions. Before we investigate the next steps, it is important to deconstruct what caused us to get to this position so that future strategy can work around these limitations.
An interesting research study by Cornell University reveals a deep-rooted prejudice towards males at the workplace. In the study, researchers sent across 1276 fake resumes to various recruiters with different profiles of men and women. It appears that universally, males with a kid are the most preferred among candidates when it comes to shortlisting through resumes. Next comes males and females without kids. Married women with kids are the least preferred by recruiters during the shortlisting process. This indicates a deep-rooted male prejudice that is present in all organisations.
A 2009 book titled Womenomics by two authors, Claire Shipman and Katty Kat reveals some very interesting observations about confidence of women at the workplace. It appears that women are inherently less self-assured than men at the workplace. Laura Liswood, a Goldman Sachs advisor, conducted a study on self-assurance among white men, white women, non-white men, and non-white women. The study reveals that most white men believe that their workplaces are fair while the other groups do not.
Womenonics states that even small differences in self-assurance extended over a long-period of time can go a long way into making a significant difference between careers of comparable competencies.
Psychological expert, Howard Taylor, studied the impact of gender majority on success measurement at the workplace. Taylor specifically studied the impact of gender-driven workplaces. Taylor’s work is focused on people in a gender in specific work industries and work streams which are dominated by the other gender and calls it ‘occupational minority.’ Some examples include male nurses, women surgeons, male teachers and so on. In these occupations, most expectations and behaviours are unconsciously geared to suit the majority gender. Unfortunately, most professions that come under a country’s GDP and economic calculations have a male majority. Consequently, success metrics especially at the senior levels are male-centric. For example, most organisations talk about business success in terms of “high-paced growth,” or “quarterly improvement of profitability.” These aggressive measures of success are not naturally inclined to suit women and thus, the business world automatically creates an environment that is not conducive to women.
Even women-leadership programs in most organisations are lop-sided. Women are selected (mostly though a nomination process), provided accelerated experiences and placed in cushy roles. This is the most common practice among Indian organisations. But will these help resolve the deep-rooted prejudices or will it require more deep-rooted solutions? It is for organisations to decide on their own.