About 15 per cent of board seats in listed Indian companies are now held by women, reflecting their rising sway in the corporate world. The numbers have risen from just 4 per cent three years ago, following a SEBI directive to have at least one woman director.

Among the 1,691 NSE-listed firms, Godrej Agrovet and IT services provider Airan Limited are the only ones with five women members on the board, including three independent directors, according to statistics from the Prime Database Group. Five others have four women directors — Indraprastha Medical Corp, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, Cipla, Ultratech Cement and Godrej Consumer Products. Most companies, however, continue to have only one woman director, to comply with the SEBI norm.

“The regulatory nudge has helped in taking up the number of women on corporate boards. On their own, companies may have felt some inertia,” says Pranav Haldea, MD of Prime Database.

Financials up Some companies are increasingly realising that gender diversity boosts their performance, too. According to an analysis of 2,400 global companies, by Credit Suisse, organisations with at least one woman director yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any.

Nisaba Godrej, Chairperson of Godrej Consumer, agrees that companies with greater gender diversity in leadership roles are more innovative, customer-centric and profitable. “Research has shown that people like to work in companies that are diverse and have an inclusive culture. So, diversity also helps us attract and retain the best talent,” she said.

The group has been grooming women leaders. In 2016, it was made mandatory at Godrej to evaluate at least 20 per cent of women for roles in sales, operations etc, and at least 50 per cent for HR, marketing and strategy for every open position at levels 3 and 4 (general manager and above).

As on October 31, 2017, of the 13,327 directorship positions in NSE-listed companies, 1,977 positions — about 15 per cent — were occupied by women. Overall, 1,633 out of the 1,691 NSE-listed companies had a woman on their board at the end of last month. However, of these, 616 positions are of non-independent women directors. Seven companies have never had a woman on their board even after the April 1, 2015 deadline.

Pankaj Dutta, Managing Partner at executive search firm Alexander Hughes, says that while women are adding diversity to boardrooms, it is not yet established if they are able to have a strong say in decision-making. “Most Indian companies are taking it as another compliance matter without realising how it may add value, or how they should see this as an opportunity to find highly qualified directors,” he said.