India Inc hiring icons like M Damodaran, Deepak Parekh & GM Rao to mentor women board members
Arun Duggal, chairman of Shriram Capital & a veteran intl banker, has initiated a mentoring programme to get more women onto corporate boards.
Forty women - including Mukeeta Jhaveri, a former investment banker and wife of Citi India CEO Pramit Jhaveri, Vinati Kastia, partner with AZB & Partners; SC Sharada, director of Lex Valorem India, and Mythily Ramesh, co-founder and CEO of NextWealth- have signed up so far.
"The fundamental objective behind the programme is to have better gender balance in boardrooms," says Duggal, who is a visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and is on the boards of several companies.
Adds Deepak Parekh, chairman, HDFC: "Every board is struggling to bring in diversity and get more women on board." Public shareholders at AGMs are demanding better representation of women on boards, he points out.
Hari Bhartia, co-chairman and managing director of Jubilant, Saroj Kumar Poddar, chairman of Adventz Group, Saurabh Srivastava, chairman of CA Technologies India, DA Prasanna, chairman and managing director of Ecron Acunova, Nihal Kaviratne, chairman of Akzo Nobel India, and MS Verma, former chairman of SBI, have also signed up as mentors.
Boards need diversity
Duggal will be the programme director for the first year and will assist the mentors and the participants when required. He will initially run the programme in partnership with Anjali Bansal, MD of Spencer Stuart India, after which they will try to institutionalise the initiative and seek an industry body, management institute or a group like the Catalyst of the US to take it forward. He might take on a mentoring role at that point.
The idea, he adds, is to expand the availability for boards a pool of women who are distinguished in their own field and ambitious enough to move to the next level and contribute to improving corporate governance.
"We reached out to chairpersons of BSE 100 companies and found that corporate leaders agree on the need to increase the representation of women on board. This programme is an outcome of that initiative," says Bansal.
Women accounted for 7% of all directors on BSE 100 companies in 2012, up from 5.5% in 2011, according to Spencer Stuart India Board Index 2012. In the UK, women accounted for 15% of all directors in 2012 compared to 12.3% in the previous year. In the US, women accounted for 17% of all independent directors in 2012.
"Indian boards need more diversity of all sorts. Gender diversity is one very important aspect," says M Damodaran, former chairman of Sebi. "Corporate boards need more women board members, who can often bring a different perspective. Initiatives such as mentoring can help identify potential directors and equip them to graduate to board positions."
Having more women on boards can benefit companies in several ways. For companies where women are key customers, a woman board member can bring valuable insight. Women also bring a unique skill set of creative inputs, out-of-the-box thinking, collaboration and more wisdom to the table where ethical issues are concerned. "In companies where 30% to 50% of the workforce is female, a woman board member can bring into discussion aspects pertaining to women employees that men can't easily think about," says Kaviratne, whose earlier global career with Unilever spanned 40 years.
Agrees Mukeeta Jhaveri, who Kaviratne will mentor: "More women in the workplace and on boards will result in a better work-life balance for families overall." Javeri, who has a background in finance, investment and marketing and was formerly with DSP Financial Consultants in international capital markets, feels this is the ideal way for her to get back into corporate India after having a ring side seat for 18 years.
The New Companies Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December last year, mandates a specified class of companies to have at least one woman on the board.
"After the change in the Companies Bill, companies have no idea where to look for board-ready women to meet the regulations. Such programmes will provide a pool of women for companies to hire more women on boards," adds Kaviratne, who serves on several boards in Singapore and India.
"Women don't need such props," says Damodaran. "The prescription in the Companies Bill that every board should have a woman is unfair to women of substance. Women can get to the top on their own."
India has a limited number of women who are qualified to serve on boards. Also, competent women may not be well-networked. Without personal acquaintance or a strong reference, a board chairman or a nomination committee is unlikely to consider a woman (or man) for a board position. The mentoring programme is designed to deal with both these issues.
"Men have a lot of networking and handholding which women with potential do not have access to," says Saurabh Srivastava, chairman CA Technologies India. "The percentage of women starts thinning as we go up the corporate hierarchy." Duggal is keen to fix this.
"Having over 16 years of experience in corporate M&A and private equity, I have learnt to pick the red flags," says Vinati Kastia, partner with AZB & Partners, one of the women being mentored. She has in the past let go of invitations to join boards as she feels it is important to learn the ropes first. Adds Mythily Ramesh of NextWealth: "I will bring in my experience in sales, marketing, operations, quality, innovation, M&A, ombudsperson in Wipro as well as my experience as an entrepreneur in 01markets in Wipro and now in NextWealth."