MUMBAI: YVVeena heads a 50-member team for Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions in Bangalore. For her German multinational employer, she is among the senior managers being groomed for future leadership. But for India Inc, she represents the new breed of energetic top women executives who are presenting themselves at boardrooms that are in need of gender balance and diversity.
More importantly, the executives are willing to go through whatever it takes to get there. Like many of her peers, Veena took time off her schedule to attend a gruelling mentoring programme in Mumbai recently, jointly held by consultancy firm DH Consultants (DHC) and Forum for Women in Leadership (WILL Forum). "The mentoring session gave me the strong feeling that I could also get into a corporate board. This is really the right time to invest time and energy to move up the ladder by spending extra time," says Veena.
India Inc is keen on building a pipeline of women executive directors from within the rank and file through different rigorous mentoring programmes and Veena is one of them.
Corporates like TCSBSE 1.64 %, Aditya Birla Group, Vodafone and Capgemini also put fast-track women through the day-long mentoring programme by DHC and WILL Forum with the aim of building aspiration levels for board positions. This was the first programme in a series of sessions on 'Women on Boards Mentoring Series'— through which the WILL Forum will train more than 100 women for board positions by the end of 2013.
"All those who attended the programme are fast-track women who have been 'nominated' by the senior leadership. The companies are sending them to broaden their mindsets on the value of women on boards and raising their aspiration levels for board positions," said Poonam Barua, chairperson, WILL Forum.
The mentoring programme indicated one other thing: the readiness of corporates to hone women's skills and their push to the gender diversity cause. Shriram Capital chairman Arun Duggal, who is running a mentoring programme in his individual capacity, signed up 40 women for the programme.
Chitra Viswanathan, 40, vice-president in charge of offshore custom software development for Continental Europe at Capgemini, is also actively involved in an internal initiative called Winspire to promote gender diversity.
"I lead one of the towers which is focused on developing women talent in Capgemini India. We help women employees develop their capabilities to be able to achieve higher levels of success, and enable platforms to build their presence both within and external to the organisation," she says. Viswanathan, an alumnus of Mumbai's Bajaj Institute of Management, got valuable tips from Jyoti Narang, COO, Taj Hotels, who was a key speaker at the mentoring session. Narang, who is on the board of a string of companies, offered a three-way strategy to get noticed and move quickly to boards. "Increase your circle of influence by constant networking, become a domain expert and join a non-profit advisory board," she said. Asked how one could get there, she said: "Peer influence is increasing. Reach out to people in other functions and try to be visible in the online world. Even things like asking the right questions at international forums will work."
NovartisBSE -2.38 % MD Ranjit Sahani had a word of caution for all the aspiring women board members: "It's great to say that you are on the board of a company. But there are many responsibilities for a board member. There are many tough laws. You also have to learn the art of managing stakeholders," he told the delegates. "Intellectual integrity, competence, ambition and drive are qualities that will help women succeed," he added.
Organisations have been initiating such mentoring programmes as the new Companies Bill seeks to create a provision for one woman member on every board. While countries like Norway have already managed to reach a target of 40% women on boards, it will take another 70 years for India to achieve the balance leadership (equal opportunity) position if efforts move at the current pace. As of now, the number of women board members is less than 1,500. There will be a greater demand once the Companies Bill is cleared, says Shailesh Haribhakti, chairman, DH Consultants.
"If women start performing well, there will be a demand for 10,000 more," he adds. In his organisation, women constitute 35% of the workforce, and mentoring programmes are in the offing to prepare them for larger roles, he says. Women accounted for 7% of all directors onBSE 100 companies in 2012, up from 5.5% in 2011, according to Spencer Stuart India Board Index 2012. In the US, women accounted for 17% of all independent directors in 2012.
Training and mentoring programmes are pushing women to find ways to break the glass ceiling. They also offer a great platform for interaction, says Monicaa Lakhmana, director operations, Taj Gateways. "We all have the basic skills. Interactive sessions with CEOs open up new avenues of knowledge," she says.
Judith Pereira, GM talent, Mahindra and MahindraBSE -1.89 %, who has attended many mentoring programmes, is looking to create an impact in a specialised domain. In a few days' time, she will kick off a project on Corporate India's sustainability in association with her company. "Good work in an impactful area gets noticed. That is what I am trying to do," says Judith. For hundreds of aspiring women board members hoping to improve visibility, Pereira offers a solution.