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Equality in the Boardroom & the HR Role

What's the metaphor that best captures the C-suite? Is it the bridge of the ship where pilots and "captains" gather intelligence and issue orders? Is it a conning tower, the place from which the corporation can examine the horizon, looking for opportunity and danger? Is it a kind of court room, where grave men and women gather to deliberate? Is it a citadel, the place where beleaguered managers retreat for refuge from all those "stake holders," people not just holding stakes but brandishing them? Nay, the boardroom is a male dominated world and not always inclined to change; as a result they face cultural and attitudinal barriers to entering the boardroom as they can be seen to disrupt the status quo of the boardroom and the "old boys club".

Corporate Boardroom is seen as an area of power and authority, it makes it difficult for women to enter as a result that women are not seen to have the same legitimate power as men have. Recently, studies on gender diversity on corporate boards have proliferated in different parts of the world. No one is surprised to find that with few exceptions, not many women have attained board appointments in the countries covered in these reports. The debate around a boardroom for women has gained a new momentum as several countries and companies are considering measures for improving gender equality and economic performance. It is difficult for women to rise through senior management as male managers and directors are seen as the standard against which women are measured.


Women's aspiration to the boardroom is a symbol and a measure of organizational change, it reflects the current mood today and it also shows how women are not just trying to achieve their goals for the feminist movement but rather for their own self-satisfaction and for their own ambitions. Women are still however striving in the workplace to achieve equality with their male counterparts. They strive to attain management positions, they work long hours, they delay or dispel the notion of having a child and all for their dreams of being successful, reaching the top and in some aspect, proving themselves. Despite all this the case for getting more women on company boards has never been stronger. Boardrooms are especially tended to be occupied by men, which means there’s a very small pipeline of women feeding into the C-suite and board roles.

According to recent statistics of the 2010 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors and the 2010 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners released recently.

Research shows that actively battling the stagnation of the last several years by advancing talented women could provide businesses with an enormous competitive advantage.

Catalyst’s latest global study, Mentoring: Necessary But Insufficient for Advancement, demonstrates that men with mentors are promoted more and compensated at a higher rate, while women with mentors are far less likely to be promoted or paid more as a result of being mentored. Sponsors—mentors who advocate for promotions and high-profile development opportunities—could help narrow the gender leadership gap. Despite years of progress in the workforce still only six percent of women hold titles of chairman, president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer in Corporate America Fortune 500 companies, and only fifteen percent of the seats on the boards of directors are held by women. Similar numbers are reported in countries other than the United States. Why do we continue to see this ongoing resistance to women in roles of executive leadership?


If we talk about India’s top 100 corporations listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange another survey report released recently by Standard Chartered Bank in association with the U.K.-based Cranfield School of Management and Community Business, has found that women comprise only 5.3% of the 1,112 directorships on boards. More than half of these companies don’t even have a single woman director. On the positive side, two companies Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. and JSW Steel Ltd. have female chairs.

Also, two of the country’s largest banks have female chief executive officers—Chanda Kochhar at ICICI Bank, the country’s biggest private lender, and Shikha Sharma at Axis Bank Ltd. In fact companies in the financial sector perform best in terms of gender diversity, with nine out of 11 banks listed on the BSE-100 able to point to a woman on their board. But with the overall number of women directors at the top companies at 5.3%, India compares unfavorably with Canada’s 15%participation rate, 14.5% in the US and 12.2% in the United Kingdom. Even markets like Hong Kong with 8.9% and Australia with 8.3% are much ahead.


We keep hearing about how hard it is to find talented women to fill these top jobs – which imply it’s only the crème de la crème of corporate India who make it into these jobs. So if it’s true that we already have the best and brightest business brains leading our companies, why haven’t they been able to improve the presence of women on boards? And why has the number of women in key executive roles declined over the past years of reporting – despite the vast (inter)national research over the past decade that demonstrates those organizations with women on their boards produce stronger financial results.

It could be that they’re not in fact the best and the brightest at all, with the strategy, HR and change management skills to fix this issue and therefore produce the stronger business results that have been linked with higher female representation at top for many years now. Or it could be that they’re not suitably motivated – in other words, the “boys club” is alive and thriving.

Changing mindsets is not easy, but women can play a positive role in this process. Women have a much higher emotional quotient than men and that is something that can help them get through.

It is true that top-rate thinkers and leaders and almost all of them are men. That’s not to say it’s universal: there are plenty of guys that simper like wet kittens, and a few women who stand up and make the tough calls, but by and large the ratio is not even close. The truth is, the fabled “pipeline to the executive suite” has a severe bottleneck. It gets qualified women in the door and promotes them to a spot in middle management, where their careers plateau or they jump to other opportunities. Efforts to help women advance to the C-suite in line with their potential simply are not succeeding Many companies have strengthened their pipeline of talented women, but focusing strictly on the pipeline will take you only so far,” More and more companies now realize that it takes coordinated individual and organizational change to sustain successful advancement for women executives. Eliminating the bottleneck to allow more women to the “top of the house” requires a more encompassing effort, and human resource Directors have a key role in the transformation. Indeed, moving beyond middle management is the critical inflection point where many women executives find themselves as a minority for the first time in their careers; the time when the strategies and skills that got them to that point won’t take them any further.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer. is not responsible for the independent views of the writer.

Contributing Writer: Natashaa Kaul from Ahmedabad. I am a student of " Doctoral Programme in Management" at Nirma University, Ahmedabad [email protected]

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