Wanted: Women Who Can Direct Indian Company Boards

The Indian Companies Act of 2013 has been a watershed development in India’s corporate world. It reigned in a sense of responsibility into India’s boardrooms. Not only did the Act try to bring in a better sense of corporate governance, it also attempted to bring in a better gender diversity in managing of India Inc.

What has followed as an onground experience is a script which was not unexpected. The corporate world welcomed the move and implemented the changes too. Independent directors and women directors were brought in as per the demands of new law. But the good part of the story ends here. Barring a small percentage who implemented the changes in letter as well as in spirit, both independent directors and women directors were someone known to the promoters. Brothers, friends, wives, daughters, etc. Good corporate governance was rarely their focus. The Act has been followed in letter, but the spirit is missing.

In percentage terms, more companies in India today have women directors when compared to the same in USA. More NSE 500 companies in India have women directors than S&P 500 companies in the USA.

Among those who have cared to invite professional women directors, have mostly gone for a bit of ‘celebrity’ status of such women. Successful entrepreneurs, female members of noted business families, etc. Though no one can doubt the competence of these women in managing companies, keeping the interest of minority shareholders in their minds at all times would be the real test. Good corporate governance essentially boils down to protecting the interest of minority shareholders and other stakeholders whose well-being needs to be an important motivator in every decision that Boards take.

Taking a risk of over-generalization, I must mention here that women of India’s modern society have proven to be great managers and administrators. They have been successful in all spheres. They balance expectations from family, workplace, their own aspirations, society, etc. through self discipline and compassion. They defend their self-respect fiercely and posses sharp survival instincts.  Qualities that every great corporate needs to have in their Board members.

These qualities are inherent in every woman, particularly working women. Corporate leaders need not stop their search for women directors within a limited zone. Given a bit of training, most women who are doctors, engineers, lawyers, CAs, civil servants, educationists, artists, etc. can be great as company directors.

My guess is that it is the corporates who need such Board members more than women who aspire to be on Boards of corporate India.