Women have long suffered second-class treatment in India, an issue that has garnered so much interest in recent years that New Delhi created a new government ministry in 2010 to tackle the problem. Although Indian women with advanced degrees are shattering glass ceilings at banks, investment firms and across the financial services sector, a new survey suggests this breaking of barriers is only going so far in India’s corporate world.
An Indian law that went into effect in August 2013 requires publicly traded companies to appoint at least one woman to their boards of directors, but so far nearly a third of the 1,475 companies listed on Mumbai’s National Stock Exchange (NSE) have yet to comply with the law, according to India’s Business Standard.
"Corporate India has not internalized the need to have women directors,” Shriram Subramanian, founder of corporate governance advisory firm InGovern Research Services, told the publication. “The need for gender diversity isn't truly felt across boardrooms, and the business case isn't compelling for companies."
The country’s stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), originally had set an Oct. 1, 2014, deadline to have woman on the boards of all companies in the stock exchange.
But in September SEBI extended the deadline by six months when only about half of the companies on the NSE had yet to comply with the rule change. Now it appears that both SEBI’s extended deadline and the March 26 deadline imposed by national law will be broken by a significant number of India’s largest firms.
Still, progress is being made. The number of India’s listed companies lacking female board members has fallen from about half to a third since October.
Board positions are key to the way a company is run, and they’re among the most powerful and well-paying positions in the business world. The compositions of boards say a lot about the corporate cultures they influence, including their progress in empowering women. Having women on corporate boards helps boost hiring of women at senior positions, too.
“The women aspiring to reach senior positions are often denied the chance, as people consider them as having lesser talent, experience and capacity to manage the work,” Kalpana Unadkat, a partner in the Indian law firm Khaitan & Co., said in an interview with the London School of Economics in September after SEBI announced the deadline extension. Unadkat’s firm co-authored a study last year that found India’s boardrooms were in dire need of more female representation.
According to a 2014 survey by Catalyst, a global nonprofit group dedicated to expanding the role of women in business, Indian women hold 9.5 percent of board positions in India’s listed companies, the second-lowest among Asian stock exchanges, above only Japan’s 3.1 percent. About 10 percent of Hong Kong company boards are populated with women. (Khaitan & Co. contradicts Catalyst's India estimate, claiming women make up only about 4 percent of publicly listed board positions.)
Norway leads the world in the share of women board members, at 35.5 percent. The United States lags most European countries in this metric, with about 19 percent of board seats filled with female executives, behind Canada’s nearly 21 percent.