Does India Inc. have enough women participation?

Indian_women_corporate It is observed in recent years that there has been an increased participation of women in the Indian corporate sector. The emergence of women corporate stalwarts, such as Naina Lal Kidwai, Pragya Raman and Lalita Gupte, who are successful in their own chosen sectors, are ample testimony to the fact that women’s participation in India Incorporated is on a roll.

Some of India’s top companies are now giving specific mandates to head-hunting firms to fill middle and senior management roles with women candidates. Bharti Enterprises and American Express have mandated their recruitment agencies to have a certain percentage of women candidates at the interview stage. While American Express asks for at least one-third representation among those appearing for job interviews, it is 25-30% for Bharti Enterprises. These efforts of promoting diversity are being appreciated in the corporate world.

Despite all this feel-good news, Indian companies seriously lack women in senior management roles.

There are stunning statistics which elude the corporate world. According to a recent study, only 26.1 percent of the listed companies (392 of 1,500 firms) have a woman on their boards. Out of the 278 directors on the BSE Sensex companies, there are only 10 women directors. Apart from this, women executives in India earn 40 percent less than what men earn over their entire career.

Even when compared to global counterparts, corporate India stands below average. Over 77 percent of the 200 largest companies in the world, as ranked by Fortune, had at least one women director on their board as of 2006. Only 36 percent of Indian companies have women holding senior management positions as compared to 91 percent of companies in China. These figures force us to ponder on how successful women have been in breaking the glass ceilings. (1)

India places in the bottom half of the global rankings, holding the 114th position out of the 134 economies covered in the Global Gender Gap Index 2009, a surey conducted by World Economic Forum, thereby indicating how opportunities and resources are being divided between women and men in India as a whole. In the economic participation and opportunity subindex, India holds 127th position, having closed a little over 41% of the gender gap in this category. Women’s labour force participation, at 36%, is less than half of the labour force participation rate of men (85%).

As per the survey, women’s estimated earned annual income (approximately Rs. 55,790) is less than a third of men’s income (approximately Rs.1,74,102). However, the perceived gap in wages for similar work is a little narrower, with women’s incomes perceived to be roughly two-thirds of men’s incomes. Finally, women make up only 3% of legislator, senior official and managerial positions. (2)

The United Nations Development Programme-sponsored 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report released in March 2010 said that lack of women's participation in the workforce costs the region billions of dollars every year. In countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by up to 2-4 percent annually if women's employment rates were raised to 70 percent, closer to the rate of many developed countries.  In South Asian countries like India and Pakistan fewer than 35 per cent of women do paid work, the UNDP report said. (3)

Inspite of the glaring differences in wages and gender gap that exists in the Indian corporate sector for women, there is a brighter side on the contrary, with the increasing number of women graduates opting for technical and mainstream study courses – which were otherwise considered a man’s domain. Such a trend will definitely lead to the demand for more jobs for women and the coming of MNCs in India will open the doors for women’s participation, considering their equal-opportunity work policies.


- Suniet Bezbaroowa (views expressed in the article are that of the author)