Elephant in the room - the state of inclusion in corporate boards
The force of law has fallen short. Mandating just one woman on Corporate Boards leaves a huge gap to fulfil the spirit of gender inclusion - instead, a % representation would have better addressed the catch up that corporate India must do.
There’s an elephant in the room - and it’s male. There is an informal boy’s club that runs companies across the globe, and so too in India. Yes, there are powerful women in senior management and top leadership positions in our country, but they are few and far between. According to Nifty Infobase data, as published in Mint, 95.33% of CEOs and MDs in India and 80% independent directors are men across Nifty-500 firms. These numbers show us the stark reality of gender disparity in the workplace in India.
We are in 2020 and women are still struggling to find a voice and representation at CXO levels. While there is a lot of talk about inclusivity in the boardroom, we are yet to see concrete affirmative steps being taken.
There are two main reasons why this is the case. In most boardrooms, the issue of appropriate gender representation is rarely a ‘board agenda’ item. Even if it is, the board members consist mainly of men. So we basically have a group of men discussing or attempting to find solutions to discrimination they have never faced themselves.
The second reason is that inclusivity is often just about fulfilling a quota. So it’s imperative to set the ‘quota’ right. Regulation has made it mandatory to have at least one independent woman director on boards. While companies have adhered to this, there is only one woman on board of 60% of Nifty-500 companies – which is the minimum requirement. About 30% have two women, 5% have three and about 2% have more than three women on their boards. The fix to address this problem is here - increase the quota.
How India can build more gender inclusive workplaces
Gender inclusiveness in senior positions improves financial outcomes of companies - and this is now well researched. Greater representation of women brings in heterogeneity in values, beliefs, and attitudes, and this then widens the range of perspectives in the decision making process, stimulates critical thinking and creativity and more importantly, complementarities arise between the managerial style of men and women. Inclusion is imperative to business success, and helps build an agile and performance-driven organisation. Here are few ways that businesses can make inclusion a part of their DNA…
- Leading from the top: Board members and senior leadership need to have active socialisation on gender representation that goes beyond male bonding - and gravitates towards collective action. Right now, it’s lonely at the top for women, and men should encourage them to be part of the leadership, rather than make them feel like the odd woman out.
- Don’t let gender sway your hiring decisions: Gender should not be a factor when it comes to hiring. Don’t discriminate against women when bringing them on board, as well as don’t hire them just because they are women. Qualifications should be the only criteria. If a candidate deserves the role, give them the opportunity.
- Make it more than just quota: Businesses should stop looking at inclusion as an HR exercise to meet mandatory requirements. Inclusion plays a big role in boosting creativity and innovation, and hence should be made organic. Businesses need to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organisation so that it becomes part of company culture.
- Treat all employees fairly: Women have been destined to have life stages different than men and can’t be penalised for that. Women are often overlooked for promotions because of their gender. There are presumptions that they won’t be able to devote more time, they have responsibility for home and kids to juggle, or men would just plain prefer to work with other men as they may be more comfortable. Companies should offer equal growth opportunities to all. This is fundamental to retaining talent and fostering inclusion in the workplace.
- Educate employees and leadership on inclusion: Make it an agenda to talk about inclusion in the company. Educate all stakeholders of the importance and benefits of inclusion. Imbibe best practices to make inclusion a reality. Start at the top and let it trickle down. Employees will take inclusion initiatives seriously when they see their leaders making efforts.
- Encourage women to enter predominantly ‘male’ fields: A lot of young women shy away from entering what are perceived as ‘male’ streams. Top leaders should proactively mentor young minds to get over their fear and pursue STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They need to enable and encourage women to be the next generation of innovators, and nurture leaders of tomorrow.
Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. While there are a few men who are champions of women, we need to be more into the conversation. Men need to become better allies to women, and together work towards equality and inclusion in the workplace. It is time to take decisive steps.