Corporate boardrooms are changing, with more women directors making an appearance in the hitherto male-dominated Indian boardrooms. But still there’s a long way to go: nearly one-third of the top 500 listed companies do not have even one woman director.

Recently, the board of directors of Aditya Birla Chemicals appointed Preeti Gupta as a non-independent, non-executive additional director. The company said the appointment was done with respect to the provisions of the Companies Act.

The board of Avanti Feeds, manufacturer of prawn and fish feeds, has appointed K Kiranmayee as additional director, while Artson Engineering, which develops products and systems in fuel handling, has named Leja Hattiangadi as it additional director.

Recently, Tata Consultancy Services appointed Aarthi Subramanian as an Executive Director on the board for three years. Though the move to appoint women directors is fuelled by the Securities and Exchange Board of India asking listed companies to name at least one woman director on their boards by the end of this month or face regulatory action, experts maintain that several progressive boards have acted proactively, even before the Act came into play. For others, the guidelines would provide a good framework for holistic governance at the board level, they add.

However, India is not the first country to do so, and many others such as Norway, France, Italy, Spain, and Belgium have already implemented such steps by introducing legislation making it mandatory to appoint women directors.

Major challenge

Some experts aver that India Inc needs to ensure over 25 appointments a day to meet the deadline.

According to a report by Grant Thornton India, only 7 per cent of the directors are women—1 in every 14 directorships. The study shows that it is a marginal improvement from the previous year, which was at 6 per cent. Hema Ravichandar, Strategic HR advisor and member of the board of Marico Ltd and Titan Company, states the 2013 Act focuses on corporate governance, beyond the financials.

Though women have been appointed to the board, it has been a slow process. In 2013, 21 women directors were executive directors, which moved to 23 in 2014. However, non-executive and non-independent women directors in 2014 stood at 27, up from 26 in 2013.

In the case of independent directors, however, , 61 women were appointed in 2014, up from 55 the year before.

Strange pattern

Across the country, a strange pattern has emerged in the appointment of independent women directors out of the total women directors on the board, according to the Grant Thornton. In 2013, North India saw a marginal improvement. From 57 per cent independent women directors out of the total women directors on the board, the figure jumped to 59 per cent in 2014 for companies situated in the north.

However, for companies in the east, from 57 per cent independent women directors in 2013, the figure dropped to 50 per cent the next year.

For companies in the west, though, the figure remained unchanged at 49 per cent.

Companies in South India had 65 per cent independent women directors out of the total women directors on the board in 2013, which rose to 67 per cent the next year.

India’s high corporate and economic growth is not seeing enough women’s contribution in larger numbers, says Saundarya Rajesh, Founder of Avtar Career Creators. “India’s current workforce participation rate for urban women in white collared jobs is at 18 per cent, a shockingly low number compared to countries at the same level of economic activity.”

Though India Inc has emphatically encouraged the inclusion of women in top management teams to ensure a wholesome perspective while making business decisions, countless initiatives need to be taken to bridge the gap, experts added.