New Manager

Charting her course to the board room

Meera Siva | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on June 10, 2014


The demand for woman directors is growing as companies scramble to meet the norms of the new Companies Act 2013

As a woman, you may have never dreamt of being in a corporate board room; however, it is probably time you set the bar higher and aim big. The demand for women directors is growing as companies scramble to meet the norms of the new Companies Act 2013, that makes it mandatory for every company that is listed or has revenue of ₹300 crore to have at least one woman director.

At present, there are over 4.8 lakh women directors on boards of companies in India; but almost half of the top 100 companies traded on BSE, including the biggest two by market value, don’t have any woman on their board, according to data by Bloomberg. So, this presents a good opportunity for women executives.

Start networking

To find your place in the board room you must start networking more and pronto. “Women who are talented do not want to talk and prefer to stay behind in secondary roles”, says V Nagappan, Director, Tamil Nadu Newsprint and Papers Ltd. Unlike recruiting for other posts, selection of board members usually happens through a network.

One reason women executives may be content in staying back is because they do not “aspire to be in board positions”, says Shaily Gupta, Group Head, Human Resources, Edelweiss Financial Services. Instead of undervaluing your skills, achievements and experiences, strive to be more visible and stay connected with a professional network through informal interactions, she points out. Casual chats help in building trust and build connections — important factors in a senior managerial position and ultimately as a board member.

So, instead of returning home after office hours to be with the family, include networking time in your list of priorities. You can tap into forums such as the Women Corporate Directors (WCD) in India, part of a global network, that hopes to provide platforms where women can network.

Know what it takes

You also need to do your homework: on what the role of board member involves. Gain a better understanding of the responsibilities on shoulders as a director, know the law: be well-versed with the Companies Act and enhance your financial literacy. If you have a specific company or industry in mind have a good understanding of the company’s business, says Anu Sriram, Chairwoman, Indian Women’s Network (IWN), Puducherry and Co-Founder and Joint MD, Integra Software Services.

Focus on your functional strengths such as marketing, finance, strategy and develop “incisive questioning” skills, says Mythily Ramesh, Co- founder and CEO, Nextwealth, a Bangalore-based IT services company. “Do a lot of homework on the competitor, analyse business strategies and find out the challenges faced at various levels of the organisation by speaking to people. She advises that you find a “positioning” on what is your value-add as a board member and hone your skills accordingly.

Balancing family

Even as many women enter the workforce, they drop out in mid-level positions due to family responsibilities. Support from the family and community are needed so that women can navigate their career during critical periods in their professional life. Also, a change in perception is needed so that women can work late hours or travel, says Tamil Nadu Newsprint’s Nagappan, since currently “anything beyond normal work hours is not encouraged for women”.

Companies can also play a role in helping women get ahead in their careers, while maintaining flexible working hours.

For instance, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) has a high representation of women on its Board and also in many key leadership positions. Women employees who have to attend to their family’s needs are given the option of taking up the role of a part time consultant instead. Likewise, they have an option of opting for flexible time or work days, notes Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, HR head, NSE.

Take up training

You can also take advantage of the many training programmes targeted at directors. For example, there is an accredited certification program called “Directors’ Club” to familiarise aspiring directors with skills such as effective execution and running of boards, says Sai Venkateshwaran , Partner and Head - Accounting Advisory Services, KPMG, India.

Another programme worth considering is a “Masterclass for Directors”, a 3-day (including a weekend) director development and certification programme run by the Institute of Directors. Similarly, the IWN is working to set up a training programme geared at women in the board room.

Organisations should consider board internships where they encourage women to take up non-executive directorships on boards of non-competitors, thereby enabling them to gain firsthand experience, suggests Gupta. While some skills such as imagination, strategising, having a vision for the company cannot be taught per se, one can always find a mentor who has experienced being on the board of a firm to guide you through the nuances.

Published on June 10, 2014
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