Column: Women aboard

Sep 10 2013, 20:23 IST
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SummaryWith women conspicuously missing from companies’ boards, the new Companies Act is set to give them their due.

Mao Zedong may have expected ‘Women (to) hold up half the sky,’ yet men have come to assume that it’s their sex that is primarily burdened with running corporate enterprises. What else can explain why women account for a mere 5.2% of directors in 1,468 companies listed on the Indian exchanges?

A barely commented upon provision in the new Companies Act is set to change this: All listed companies are now expected to have at least one woman director on their board.

But first, is this headcount of women directors relevant? Many will argue that the gender equality in hiring at entry level that we see today, when roughly equal number of men and women are hired was not what was witnessed three decades ago—from where today’s leaders are being drawn. Well we probably are looking at the wrong data. But even so it is difficult to imagine a very different outcome in future, unless there is a conscious effort to bring about change. Today, even as men and women in far more equal numbers than before step onto the worker treadmill, this proportion continues to change, as people move along the corporate walkway, with more men puffing their way to the retirement line.

In a recent blog in Harvard Business Review, Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt, recognised experts on women's leadership, have listed four reasons why women stunt their careers unintentionally—women are more modest (less likely than their male colleagues to take credit for their success), not asking (less likely to raise their hand for a new role), blending in (conversely, don’t stand out consciously) and remaining silent. What all this means is that men are more confident, and women remain plagued with self-doubts (their words). There are skills that women bring—intuitiveness and a more collaborative style of leadership, to list just two. This is in sharp contrast with the more aggressive stance of that men display. A mix of the two is clearly more desirable.

A contrasting argument is that women realise the pointlessness of excess travel and 70-hour work weeks and actually choose a career below their potential. Or that women do not actually want the top job. For one, women start thinking ahead—taking career decisions well in advance of when they want to start a family. This stretches to childbearing and rearing, particularly in the early ears, when

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