BY CORPORATESTO THEADVANCEMENTof
women’s careers, these initiatives are at best described as slow if not stalled. This is evident in the discussions at Morro Vulcan Steel (MVS), and in their desperate hunt for ‘board ready’ women.
Clearly, it is not just an issue of gender diversity. While many organisations have had management commitment to women’s development programmes, results unfortunately do not reflect adequate numbers at senior to top management levels. On Chairman Morro’s insistence MVS had done its bit too, however, as Gauri points out, social conditioning via gender roles (alluding to the ‘hot phulka) keeps the talent pipeline leaky. Additionally, there are deep seated beliefs in organisations about the staying power of women that make senior managers wonder, “Is this a dependable asset?” thereby surfacing the reality that organisations are indeed reflections of the societies they are embedded in.
Again, it is not about just providing women friendly infrastructure and policies. Shirish throws up an interesting perspective – that of self-limiting behaviours of women where she presents herself first in a relation to someone else, and only next as a professional. I tend to agree here, for women do want to perform all their different roles well. Most often, conflicts within arise when their sub-identities of being a wife, a mother,
a daughter, and a career woman operate simultaneously clamouring for her time and attention. Organisational policy makers must take cognizance of this: by giving her latitude to choose her place of work, her work timings, andher ramp- off time so that she can orchestrate her myriad role playing to satisfaction. And yet, seamlessly integrate her aspirations into mainstream career paths so that she does not have to trade one role for the other. This is well articulated by Shirish when he says, “… allow our women to grow in the direction of their choice, give them opportunities to grow into strong individuals”.
What ensues in the all-women meeting is another reality: board memberships are in actuality buddy clubs where favours are traded by men to join each other’s boards. Women are outsiders, aren’t they? Men get mentors and coaches far easily than women do, and while ethics and governance are central elements of board roles, it is the camaraderie that counts. These positions are fraught with danger (Do women want to go to jail?), and the buddy club members have each other’s back. That is why the fewwomen on boards are entrusted with CSR initiatives. Will women be happy with just that or want to be on boards where they can influence decisions?
On the other hand, do women think of board positions as a necessity? Unfortunately many do not. As seen in the discussion, women tend to reject anything that has no personal meaning for them or that which is likely to upset their delicate work-life balance such as need
for long hours to surmount the learning curve as board member of an unfamiliar industry. It is true that bystanders cannot change the system; hence, women must accept board positions as a logical sequence in their career trajectory. If not, initiatives to get women on boards will reduce to merely meeting a reservation target. This is not healthy, for the true need to get women on boards is to take advantage of the diverse perspective they can bring to board deliberations, different approaches to problem solving, and risk management. While this is indeed the diversity argument, the positive correlation found between boards with women and economic outcomes of companies compels action.
Nevertheless, the issue remains – there are not enough board ready women. Fewer exist in executive management, and even fewer are able to make the transition from management to governance. Two questions then arise:
Is there a lack of investment in women by organisations? And, what do women need to do to get board-ready portfolios?
Women must consciously design their careers by reaching out to mentors, evaluate relevance of their contributions and develop a honed awareness of all aspects ofbusiness and its governance. This will work best when women make efforts early on in their careers ably supplemented by organisational initiatives that can make them board-ready. ED