At Wipro’s recent annual general meeting, chairman Azim Premji told shareholders that the company would have a woman on its board before the next such gathering. “We are working actively to induct a women director,” he said. According to media reports, Wipro has been on this task for quite some time now. In February last year, in an interview with business daily The Economic Times, Ashok Ganguly, an independent director and chairman of the nominations committee of Wipro’s board, had said that the company was talking to several women candidates. Ganguly noted: “The discussions so far have been very encouraging…. Women leaders come in with a lot of experience and they bring different perspectives…. We are actively searching.”
Vasanthi Srinivasan, associate professor of organizational behavior and human resources management, and Rejie George Pallathitta, associate professor of corporate strategy and policy, at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, recently presented a study on women directors on corporate boards in India. According to them, “In most organizations, the process of identifying and grooming potential women directors is not a structured or formal one. The talent management process must work toward developing the required skills and competencies and create a pipeline of potential women directors.”
Meanwhile, a group of corporate leaders has come together to mentor women for directorship positions in the country. This initiative is being spearheaded by Arun Duggal, chairman of Shriram Capital, and Anjali Bansal, managing director of Spencer Stuart India. “The fundamental objective behind the program is to have better gender balance in boardrooms,” says Duggal, who serves on several boards and is also a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. “Otherwise, a big part of a company’s stakeholders — employees, customers etc. — is not adequately represented and the perspective is not broad enough to have multiplicity of views.”
Bansal points out that according to the Spencer Stuart India Board Index 2012, women accounted for 7% of directors in the Bombay Stock Exchange 100 companies in 2012. In the U.K., this number stood at 15% and in the U.S., 17%. “One key constraint in India is that of supply. We just don’t have enough board-ready women [executives],” says Bansal. “There is need for a talent pool to be identified and prepared for serving on boards.”
The idea of a mentoring program came to the duo after an interaction with the New York-based Catalyst Group, which last year did a pilot project in the U.S. under which 15 women executives were mentored for board positions. “That initiative went off well and is now being done in places like the U.K., Canada and Australia. So I thought we could try something similar in India,” says Duggal.
Duggal and Bansal have currently recruited around 50 India Inc. leaders with board experience to act as mentors and around 100 women executives have signed up for mentoring. One batch of mentor-mentees has already been matched. The mentoring will go on for around three months and includes a prescribed reading list, weekly calls and meetings to understand the responsibility of board members. Wherever possible, mentees will get the opportunity to attend board meetings after getting the required permission from the respective boards and signing the requisite confidentiality agreements.
Bansal believes that women at all levels in corporate India require mentoring. “We have very high-quality women entering the workforce, but there is a lot of leakage at the middle management level. Having enough role models will prove that there are different ways of making it work,” she says. Duggal adds: “Our goal is to mentor and place 100 women in board positions in the next one year. But there is also an issue of mindset [of other board members]. We need to ensure that these women are effective as board members. And we hope that in due time this program will no longer be needed.”