Women in Indian Boardrooms

You might be saying, “Oh, not again about women”. But this is one piece of news I wanted to share and discuss with you. Believe it or not, the New Companies Bill 2011 has a provision making it mandatory for companies to have one woman director on the board. One can look forward to more corporate women becoming rock stars. Female gender was mostly invisible in Indian boardrooms, may now gain some significant visibility.

Though personally I am against the idea of reservations and believe women should succeed on merit. I go by Charlotte Whitton’s quote – “For a woman to get half as much credit as a man, she has to work twice as hard, and be twice as smart. Fortunately, that isn’t difficult.” However, in India’s case I think reservation may really be beneficial. I am discussing two biases that are restricting the growth of women in corporate sector.

1. The Indian Bias

As mentioned in an earlier post, India has over 500 million women however just 335 held directorship positions in listed companies, that is less than 5% of total board of directors. Across the world women face a concrete ceiling (not glass ceilings, these are easier to break) in getting senior positions. In US,  for the last few years the percentage of women in senior management positions is 13-15% with no significant growth. Norway shows the highest percentage with around 30% women holding board positions. These countries have such low percentages of women at senior level although their social culture supports equality of genders.

In India, only the constitution recognizes equality of genders. The social structure is biased against girls from the day they are born. This is because of the age old dowry custom in India. On marriage, the brides father has to give a big fat amount to the grooms family to get his daughter married off. In most families, if the money is not given, either the girl will not get a suitable match in arranged marriage or if she does, she is be harassed in her husband’s family. Women are not considered earning partners and in conventional families are not allowed to work. Hence, they don’t have economic power.

Just to emphasize the negative conditions of women living in India, including in urban areas, here is some shocking statistics :

1. The Gender Gap Report 2011 of World Economic Report ranks India 113 out of the total 135 countries measured.

2. An article on domestic violence mentions that “according to United Nation Population Fund Report, around two-third of married Indian women are victims of domestic violence and as many as 70 per cent of married women in India between the age of 15 and 49 are victims of beating, rape or forced sex.”

3.  According to National Crime Bureau 2010 report on Crime Against Women – “A total of 2,13,585 incidents of crime against women (both under IPC and SLL) were reported in the country during 2010 as compared to 2,03,804 during 2009″. India is amongst the most unsafe countries in the world. In 2010 there were over 22,000 rape cases and over 8000 dowry death cases reported.

Seeing the cultural and social bias against women a whole lot depends on their economic power. Hopefully, with this law, with more women in boardrooms the social mindset will change somewhat. When more visible stories of successful females are reported by the media, the Gen Y women might get a better deal and opportunities to gain financial independence. They might have more support from their families to hold a job and earn a living. Hence, this law gives Indian women a lot of hope and an opportunity to dream big.

2. The Global Bias

Before I discuss this point, here is a quiz, check out which of the words apply to your working style:

Aggression,  Empowerment, AutocracyCommunication, ManagementCollaborationRules, Consultative,  Win-Lose, Social-sharing, Boss-hierarchy, Win-Win, CompetitionEmotional Intelligence, Procedures, Teamwork, ControlRelationshipsToughnessNetworking, Command and Empathy.

This may surprise you, the words above in red describe mostly a male working style and those in blue relate to female working style. The present global economy the female traits are in demand. As Tom Peters had mentioned in his presentation on gender diversity, women lead in 18 of the 20 attributes required in the present work environment. If companies wish to change their organization culture to meet the challenges of current economic environment, then doesn’t it make sense to hire more women as they naturally have these traits.

Here is another twist on strengths analysis. Traditional thinking is that competitiveness and command traits ensure success. On the contrary, there are numerous traits required in employees for an organization to be successful. For instance, too many planners and judgement oriented employees in a team will delay action, flexibility and innovation.  Interestingly, the book Strengths Finders 2.0 authored by Tom Rath mentions 34 strengths. People have a group of these strengths that can be leveraged to be successful in the business environment. I am listing the strengths here.  Read below and find out which strengths you have and are they really appreciated in your organization.

1) Achiever, 2) Activator, 3) Adaptability, 4) Analytical, 5) Arranger, 6) Belief, 7) Command,  8) Communication, 9) Competition, 10) Connectedness, 11) Consistency, 12) Context, 13) Deliberative,   14) Developer, 15) Discipline, 16) Empathy, 17) Focus, 18) Futuristic, 19) Harmony, 20) Ideation, 21) Includer, 22) Individualization, 23) Input, 24) Intellection, 25) Learner, 26) Maximizer, 27) Positivity,   28) Relator, 29) Responsibility, 30) Restorative, 31) Self-Assurance, 32) Significance, 33) Strategic and 34) Woo (winning others over)

On reading this list, irrespective of gender the question comes up – if as an employee you have attributes or strengths that are not valued in the organization, then what do you do?  .

In my view, the crux of the problem is that organizations are biased towards certain strengths. For example, Apple, Google and other technology companies may be are more focused on intellection, learner and strategic traits whereas in military the focus is on command, discipline and belief. The employees with different strengths are not encouraged, though balance makes organizations more successful. Hence, if one delves deeper the issue is not about gender, it is about the traits that are valued in the organization.  Usually gender equality is facing hurdles as macho traits are more appreciated in organizations. Hence, where boards are all male, women are not welcome. Organizations where non-macho traits are valued, generally have more women at all levels including the top.

Closing Thoughts

In India, without economic power women are unlikely to be respected. Though Indian mythology talks a lot of women equality, respect and honor, the reality is different. Hence to break the vicious circle, this law will help. The benefits will be the same as reservations of seats for women in panchayats in rural India.

On the global front, organizations need to develop an appreciation of non-masculine traits. As evident from advertising and branding of some successful companies, women consumer power matters. Without having women at the top, an all male bastion cannot understand the softer requirements of female consumers. It makes sense to have women deciding for women.

If you don’t agree with me, take this instance. Ask any hubby to buy a gift for his wife, he will sound as if he has to do a torturous task rather than a happy shopping expedition. Husbands complain they don’t know what their wife wants, and male board of directors decide on female consumers preferences. Then men say women are illogical. Couldn’t resist that one.


  1. Gender Gap Report 2011 – World Economic Forum
  2. Domestic Violence in India: Causes, Consequences and Remedies
  3. Crime Against Women report 2010 of National Bureau of Crime.
  4. Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath

2 comments on “Women in Indian Boardrooms

  1. I think India’s situation culturally and socially does mitigate towards the argument for placing women in positions as you describe. Whilst the norms you describe are indeed typical, I don’t myself find myself a typical man. It sometimes causes me problems when interacting with ‘male men’ and ‘male women’ if you see what I mean. Whilst we cannot deny our genes, the world is calling for more co-operative behaviours to solve world problems and I believe we are all capable of doing those behaviours if we try harder / differently.


    • Peter,

      You have touched a valid point…that of being “male”, I think that is because of typecasting. I have experienced it. In India, a female being a fraud investigator is considered “male female” as you put. Financial fraud investigation in organizations has nothing to do with brawn, it is all about brain. However, perceptions are hard to break.

      On the other hand, people consider me very polite, and criticize me for not reacting aggressively enough to other people negative behavior.

      It is a case of slotting people according to some specific attribute seen in a certain situation, without attempting to understand the whole. For example, in Tom Peters presentation he mentioned that in US most of the adventure sports booking and equipment is purchased by women. Adventure sports being a typically male bastion.

      If we accept the individuality of all people, accepting their quirks with their strengths, we would have less conflicts. No one can be boxed in, and behaves according to the situation and the circumstances around them. We don’t need to be fanatical about our likes and dislikes or different opinions. Life would be very boring if we all were the same.


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