The government is noticing how companies are evading the mandate to have women directors on their boards, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday.

“Nifty50 companies have often hired the same women for their boards. There are also attempts to evade the mandate to include women in boards,” she said. “All this is being noticed and tracked...”

‘Just no excuse’

Speaking at a Women Directors’ Conclave at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) in Mumbai, the Minister said, “There is just no excuse (not to have more women on top corporate posts). We cannot be ignored any longer.”

Sitharaman, the first woman to independently hold the charge of the Finance Ministry, said while the overall number of women directors had increased gradually, there were still several companies, including public sector banks and undertakings, which didn’t have a single women director. “Fourteen women hold five-to-six directorship positions across NSE-listed companies, while seven hold seven directorship positions each — that is a very revealing number. It doesn’t have to be so concentrated,” she said.

The FM stressed that there was a need to widen the pool of women directors. “Why do women need to prove they are worthy of being on company boards? Women don’t need patronising ... many women have proved themselves and have been recognised,” she added.

‘Need profit? Get me in’

Sitharaman cited a study that showed the average profitability of companies with more women directors was higher by 43 per cent and companies with non-diverse boards showed 29 per cent decrease in profitability. “We are not asking for more inclusivity or gender parity, if you want profit, get me (women) in,” she said.

Sitharaman said she heard the former Indian women’s cricket team’s captain Mithali Raj looked up to Sachin Tendulkar while growing up as there were no women cricketers. “Mithali became that icon. There should be more Mithalis in the boardroom,” she said. Notably, it was at the BusinessLine Changemaker event, where Mithali Raj won the iconic changemaker award, that the cricketer had made this remark.