“The Society today is more Amenable to Working Women”
Ms Shachi Irde, Executive Director at
Catalyst India WRC, has rich background
in business development, marketing, human
resources and diversity and inclusion (D&I)
practices. In an email interview with People
& Management, she shares her views on
increasing role of working women in India,
gender diversity, new Company Bill 2013
and how to inspire women to come on board.
How would you characterise the opportunities for professional women in India today?
In one word: Bright!! Organisations are waking up to the benefits of input from women and looking for opportunities to increase diversity in leadership. Many organisations today have set up specific programmes to attract, retain and grow professional women. It is far easier now for women to integrate their professional and personal life and give 100 percent to each area. The society today is more amenable to working women and makes the necessary accommodation to assist a professional woman advance in her career.
It is a fact that in Indian corporations, women still form a minority when it comes to board membership. So what would Indian companies do to change this?
India Inc has taken several steps to create more inclusive work environments with initiatives ranging from Mentorships and Sponsorships and engaging men as champions in the workplace; which is one of the most persistent causes of the ‘leaking pipeline’. Thus, most systems lack accountability and hence cannot really be counted as sustained efforts. Metrics and accountability are key to ensuring the use and effectiveness of work programmes for employees.
Some programmes and practices aimed at the development and advancement of women can include:
• Targeted leadership development
• Accountability for development and advancement
• Engaging men in diversity & inclusion efforts
According to new Company Bill 2013, at least one of the board members should be a woman. Will these types of policies influence India’s boardrooms to be more gender-balanced?
These types of policies are definitely a good step towards making India’s boardrooms more gender-balanced. However, having just one woman is not enough. Companies will begin to see change only with the inclusion of more women on boards. This is not just by way of speaking; the business case for gender diversity is very real. A series of Catalyst studies have shown that companies with three or more women board directors, on average, had better financial performance than those that had fewer. An inclusive corporate environment has been shown to boost productivity, customer satisfaction and is also positively associated with innovation and creativity within organisations.
How can policy makers encourage better female representation on board?
Focussed approach towards progression of women at all levels can lead to making a difference in the overall representation of women at all levels up to board. An open communication encouraging women to pursue opportunities - rather than assuming on their behalf - will encourage better female participation. Changing and enforcing laws which will give women equal access to opportunities would be a move in the right direction, for example, in few states in India women are not permitted to work beyond specific time (night).
Apart from quotas, what can be done to improve board diversity and gender balance?
One of the things, we at Catalyst urge senior leaders to do, is to be intentional and take action. In Canada, for example, we launched the Catalyst Accord in 2012 – a call to action to companies to publicly commit to increasing the overall proportion of Financial Post 500 board seats held by women to 25 percent by 2017. Those who commit to the Accord pledge, set a goal for women’s representation on their board to be met by 2017, share that goal with Catalyst on a confidential basis (and may choose to make the goal public), and agree to be recognised publicly as a leader on the issue. While this has been initiated in Canada, it is definitely not restricted there; every organisation can set internal goals to diversify its board and senior leadership team.
More recently, Catalyst launched the Catalyst Corporate Board Resource, a premier directory of CEO-sponsored board-ready women. CEOs from Catalyst member companies sponsor women for inclusion in the resource and consult it when seeking to add a woman to their boards. This resource embodies the power of sponsorship and serves to refute the myth that there is a ‘supply problem’ when it comes to finding qualified women to serve on boards.
Does diversity lead to good governance practices or does good governance lead to more diversity?
Diversity and good governance practices are not mutually exclusive. Rather one encourages the other. Catalyst research indicates that gender diversity on boards is connected with better corporate governance and board oversight. Gender-inclusive leadership is also associated with increased corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Does business dynamic change when women are on board? Do they handle things differently than men do?
Catalyst does not believe that all women exhibit different behaviour from men. Rather, there are differences among individuals which make it difficult to generalise. For that reason, we also look at the benefits of more than one woman (representing all women) on a board to truly get the benefits of diversity. What our research shows – corroborated by other research as well – is that diverse teams, well managed, achieve better results. Additionally, women bring different perspectives to the table that can lead to more creativity, innovation and, often, insights into the marketplace.
What changes have you seen in women’s presence on top over the course of your professional career?
In the course of my career, I have observed women are now taking challenging and leadership roles. Catalyst research also shows that women in senior roles ‘pay it forward’ i.e., they are more likely to mentor other women to encourage them in careers.
Can you offer some practical tips for women seeking directorship/board membership?
Your personal and professional network will be of utmost importance in seeking a board position. Because one does not apply to be on a board – instead one is invited – it is important that you build visibility, reputation and profile. Communicate your interest in board service to your network and seek out opportunities to meet and interact with other board directors. At the same time, be sure to get the critical work experiences that will serve you well for board service: seek operational roles with profit and loss responsibility, international experiences and develop an expertise. Know what your company’s policy is with respect to service on corporate boards and if it is permitted, know what senior leadership (including the CEO) would say about you if asked.