Serving as an independent director some years ago on one of India's leading consumer companies, a highprofile woman executive caught a glimpse of the ugly side of Indian boards. Everything was good in the beginning. She was given a grand welcome at the company headquarters.
"But when I actively began participating in the discussions, I was most politely given to understand by another board member that my role was to just sign on the dotted line," recounts this woman executive, requesting anonymity. "He told me, "it's is just a governance need, madam, nothing for you to take too much trouble about'." She left that board within a year. "I have been picky about boards ever since." Indian companies too have been picky, extremely picky, when it comes to having a woman on their board of directors. They are poor exemplars of gender equality and diversity. Only 6% of directors on the 1,463 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange are women, according to Prime Database, which operates a joint initiative called indianboards.com with the exchange.
This number is set to increase because of a new clause on women directors in the new Companies Act, which was seconded by capital market regulator Sebi (Securities Exchange Board of India) for listed companies. On February 13, in a vote for gender diversity, Sebi instructed all listed companies to appoint at least one woman to their boards by October 1. We are at the rough mid-point between the announcement and the deadline, but boards are slow on the uptake. The best women executive talent is in great demand, but the second rung is not finding many takers. As of July 24, as many as 886 of the 1,463 NSE-listed companies were yet to appoint a woman director. Only 101 companies had complied and appointed women to 105 directorships, but 27 of these positions were filled by women from the promoter group.