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The Time To Have a Gender-Balanced Boardroom Is Now The world has changed, women have shattered glass ceilings regularly and yet, when it's time for a pitch, or when it's time to change certain policies, the boardroom still feels like a place where one will be judged by one's gender or color

By Anushka Iyer

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The walk from home into the boardroom is different for a man and a woman. Roles have reversed and it is quite possible that we have a man scurrying to pack a lunchbox for his kids and a woman dropping them off to school or vice versa in the current times, but both enter the boardroom with a power stance.
The world has changed, women have shattered glass ceilings regularly and yet, when it's time for a pitch, or when it's time to change certain policies, the boardroom still feels like a place where one will be judged by one's gender, color or on the lobbies that one holds close to one's heart. All the more important for a boardroom to have a gender balanced vibe.

The ongoing debate
The scenario for women led boardrooms is still bleak compared with a predominant percentage of women ruling the workforce. Women are being under-represented in executive positions due to organizational policies, age-old practices, corporate attitudes that are subtly affecting their career paths and their road to the top.

The debate has been ongoing about roping in more female members in the boardroom but not without its inhibitions and hurdles. Radical changes are predicted in the corporate sector and compliance mechanisms, especially for women empowerment and transparency in the boardroom as per the provisions of the New Companies Act, 2013 and SEBI regulations. More women are being appointed as directors through legislative provisions. A study conducted by a management institute recently revealed India holds the last position, with just 12.1 per cent representation on boards in comparison with a few other countries, which is in contrast with topmost positions secured by Norway (35.1 per cent), followed by Sweden (32.6 per cent), and then by France (32.5 per cent). But the question is how will this debate end? Not unless the boardroom becomes more inclusive to the female tribe.

An equal voice
The way a man and woman think or resolve a problem can be starkly different. When the boardroom hosts equal genders, behavior and conduct are more balanced. A different perspective allows for a different strategy and execution of plans from both genders. The point being, every gender needs their voice to be heard in the boardroom. Albeit, women need to be selected on merit and not just to fulfil the mandatory quota. We need equal representation in the boardroom with different voices and perspectives to mitigate risks and come up with resolutions. Gender parity also helps to not sweep important issues under the rug and make sure all of them are given a decent ear to be resolved.

The emotional quotient & technical skills
Women are born nurturers. Their psyche is built in a way that allows them to multitask and juggle multiple roles together single-handedly while being the most active entrant in the boardroom. She is a mother, a wife, a friend, a confidante, a mentor, a businesswoman, etc. The current literature finds that women have a higher emotional intelligence ability than men based on common ability tests such as MSCEIT and the newer Test of Emotional Intelligence. Along with bringing in compassion and empathy on the table, she also brings in professional technical expertise since she has probably been holding a key tech position at a previous employer.

Self-imposed barriers
According to a recent study by a publishing entity which appeared in the Journal of Human Relations, women tend to fall victim to barriers that are self-imposed by themselves which includes gendered modesty, underselling their strengths and announcing their weaknesses. But they are mostly reluctant to use their connections to climb up the ladder as societal standards may look upon it as an obscure move to rise to the top. The fear of failure is rampant and this might deter most women from going after that board position. Hence, women need to rise above such intrinsic beliefs which assume they are not prepared for the boardroom.


Ready for the boardroom
Women must be prepared and mentored for higher roles. They should be encouraged to take decisions and risks without the fear of prejudice. Every organization needs to emulate a gender-equal boardroom and not just talk about women empowerment. Organizations need to come up with more initiatives that empower women to lead in higher roles and support them through it all. Women role models are important. The more women role models we have at the top, the more we will get more women thinking about aiming for these roles and mentally preparing themselves for the leap.

The key findings as per the sixth edition of Deloitte Global's Women in the Boardroom report, found that women hold just 16.9 per cent of board seats globally. There has been a 1.9 per cent increase in the number of independent women directors on selected Indian companies' boards since last year since 2017, as per the Harvard Business Review, but if this rate of progress holds steady, it will be three more decades till gender parity is achieved in the boardroom.

As companies, boards and governments move ahead with gender equal boardrooms, we must encourage more women leaders and trailblazers to not limit themselves when it comes to the boardroom and also ensure that more men encourage women to take the lead.

Anushka Iyer

Founder and CEO, Wiggles.in

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