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India Seeks More Women on Corporate Boards

Mukesh Ambani (R), chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd, poses with his wife Nita (2nd R), mother Kokilaben (2nd L) and son Akash, before addressing the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Mumbai.

Mukesh Ambani (R), chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd, poses with his wife Nita (2nd R), mother Kokilaben (2nd L) and son Akash, before addressing the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Mumbai.

From VOA Learning English. This is the Economic Report.

The goal appeared simple: require a woman to sit on the board of directors of all companies listed on India’s National Stock Exchange. But after one year, many companies are still trying to fill the positions. This has raised the issue of how well women are represented in top leadership jobs.

Indian lawmakers passed the legislation last year. The rule is meant to ensure gender diversity and bring attention to the issue of women in corporate leadership. The rule required that women be named to all corporate boards by April 1.

About 150 companies out of 1,475 listed on the stock market failed to name a woman to their boards by that date. And nearly half the companies that did meet the requirement appointed a female relative of a current board member.

Among those companies was Reliance Industries. It named the Chairman’s wife, Nita Ambani, to the board.

Pranava Haldea of the market research group, PRIME Database in New Delhi questions the effectiveness of the requirement.

He says his organization thinks that the female relatives will share the same ideas and opinions as their family member on the board. He says that defeats the purpose of diversity.

Many companies argued there was a shortage of skilled female workers able to fill the positions. Uday Chawla is head of a professional search company, Transearch India. It helped some companies look for candidates. He says the difficulty was to find women who had already served on boards.

He said more professional companies want women on the board who can add value to the board instead of just meet a requirement. He says these companies demand competency and experience. Mr. Chawla said there are very few women who have the experience.

Others said companies simply did not take the legislation seriously and failed to look carefully. Yet, the inability of corporate India to find women to sit on boards has brought attention to the low level of women’s participation in top management positions.

Catalyst is a non-profit organization that works to build inclusive workplaces. The group released a study that said almost 50 percent of women in corporate India leave such work between the lowest and middle professional level. In the rest of Asia, 29 percent of women do.

Shachi Irde is the director of Catalyst India, WRC. She says one of the reasons women leave is that women in India are mainly responsible for family care. She says companies need to put in place policies to keep more women on the job.

“If you really look and ensure that the women are recognized, treated fairly, then there is a lot more of women that you can see in your organization rather than them dropping off. The challenge definitely comes when organizations don’t have inclusive policies and she is pulled between both her home responsibilities and her office responsibilities.”

Ms. Irde says more women could be placed on boards if companies do not only consider women with experience as board members.

Pranav Haldea says Indian companies need to recognize that more women in the workplace and in top management add value to a company.

He says he does not believe more laws are the answer. He said it is more of an effort to change beliefs in the corporate world.

Corporate boards in India have among the lowest percentages of women members. Women are represented most on corporate boards in Norway, Finland and France which have government requirements for female membership.

And that's the Economic Report from VOA Learning English.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Anjana Pasricha reported this story from New Delhi. Mario Ritter wrote it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

gender diversity – n. the state of including both men and women

corporate ­– adj. involving or associated with a corporation (a business or company)

competency – n. ability or skill

participation – n. to be involved with others in doing something : to take part in an activity or event with others

management – n. the people who make decisions about a business, department, sports team, etc.

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