Women in the boardroom – what can we do more…

Last week I was at a gathering organised by The Global Women in PR (GWPR) India chapter. The conversations held simultaneously across Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru delved deeper into the trends thrown up by “The Global Women in PR Annual Index 2023”.

The trends are surprisingly aligned with trends on women in the boardroom.

Despite the mandate by Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) that listed companies should have at least one woman director on their board, the figures in 2022 stood at a measly 18%. We can take solace from the fact that this percentage tripled from 6 per cent in 2013 or we can speak up and collectively push for policy changes that see more representation of women at the top.

Let us look at some of the things that we can do in solidarity to ensure women’s voices are heard and that they have a seat at the table.

#Begin at the beginning

If you want more women to be on the top and lead functions and eventually boards, you need to start from the bottom. Hire more women. Open up typical male dominant functions and roles for women. Currently, the IT sector sees the largest hiring of women. And guess what, the startup ecosystem hires the least! And to think that as a nation India is banking heavily on the Startup system to propel it to higher growth level. That is the irony of it all.

#Support with appropriate policy interventions

Many organisations have thankfully moved beyond asking the rudimentary questions on marriage and kids during the recruitment process. That is simply not enough. Organisations need to ensure robust policy changes that support women when they go through life defining moments of motherhood, or caregiving, and/or menopause. This calls for continuous feedback and review of existing systems and frameworks. The world has moved on. Organisations need to keep up with the changes.

#Create career progression plans

Here is a catch – many HR plans have provision for movements in salary band, but few go beyond that to look at providing women with new roles and new experiences. Growth happens only outside the comfort zone. If you want women to be leaders, then HR needs to be proactive and draw up a well-defined career trajectory for the high potential, high performers.

#Identify mentors

Everyone needs a mentor. Someone who can guide through the rough period, the phase of settling down in a new job, someone who knows the system, and can provide support in navigating the same. Having a structured mentoring program for women can help them lean on to it during difficult times and deal with situations successfully.

#Develop a coaching culture

Coaching is a great enabling tool that can lay the foundation for a more self-aware and self-assured professional. Organisations need to create and execute a vibrant coaching culture that democratises coaching and makes it accessible to everyone across levels. Coaching needs to move out of the C-suite room and enter the frontlines domain!

#Seek allies

This cannot be over emphasised. Women need allies. Not just among women. But also, men who can back them up for their work, their growth, and development.

None of the above can be done alone. There has to be a collective movement towards ensuring women find their rightful place in the boardroom.

The board needs women who bring with them gravitas, years of wisdom, experience and diversity of thoughts.

Are we ready?

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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