The sound of gentle steel

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When a finer member of our species becomes the part of an all-men group, the results are obvious – better focus on the job at hand, a far more effective team, higher levels of decency and a groundswell of chivalrous overtures.

Chamaiporn Uerpairojkit

Chamaiporn Uerpairojkit

Better still, if she happens to be a CEO, we have a boardroom which is painted a deeper shade of pink, thereby driving away the boredom from the drab proceedings. We also have a crackling company which is more result-oriented and has better empathy while dealing with diverse stakeholders. We are also likely to get a greener and cleaner business entity which believes in corporate ethics and good governance.

In the Pink of Health

Several studies done in far-flung countries such as USA, France and Vietnam have shown that companies led by women deliver better financial results. A McKinsey study compared the top-quartile of companies in terms of share of women  in executive committees against companies that have all-male executive committees. It found that the former companies exceeded the latter by 41% in return on equity and by 56% in operating results.

Two studies have shown that companies with significant numbers of top women managers do better when compared to competitors in the same sector. The improved performance is in both in terms of such organizational aspects as innovation and accountability as also in terms of profit.

Wang Feng Ying

Wang Feng Ying

The tipping point is the key: At three members of the board, the benefits of women start to make a real difference. It appears that with that critical mass, female board members are more likely to come up with challenging questions and encourage the entire group to arrive at a more inclusive and better decision.

There are also studies which negate this view. The Credit Suisse Research Institute, acknowledging that it is hard to make sense of the many confusing and contradictory findings, came up with its own analysis. The study suggested that better performance by companies with female board members does not necessarily suggest that the women led to the stronger performance; it could also mean that companies that are financially successful tend to be more inclusive. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that “more balance on the board brings less volatility and more balance through the cycle.”

Eva Chen

Eva Chen

The Global Scenario

A Grant Thornton International Business Report released earlier this year concluded that 49 per cent of CEOs in Thailand are women, which is the highest proportion in the world. The global ratio was reported to be 24 per cent of senior management roles filled by women, up from 21 per cent in 2012 and 20 per cent in 2011.

In general, ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific regions are ahead of the global average with 32 and 29 percent female proportions, respectively. Vietnam and the Philippines are in the top 10, with 37 per cent of senior posts in the Philippines being held by women, down by two percentage points from 2012.

Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita

Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita

The G-7 economies appeared at the bottom of the league table with just 21 per cent of senior roles occupied by women. This compares to 28 per cent in the BRIC economies and a remarkable 40 per cent in the Baltic countries.

Japan was the worst performer with just 7 per cent of senior roles occupied by women. UK (19 per cent) and the USA (20 per cent) were reported to be within the bottom eight countries for women in senior management. In contrast, top of the table for women in senior management – not only CEOs – is China, with 51 per cent.

The report also revealed that proportion of women in senior positions depends on the sector under consideration. More than double the number of positions in the global healthcare sector was occupied by women than in construction or mining. The most popular top management position for women was reported to be chief financial officer, while chief information officer was the least.

If Thailand has Chamaiporn Uerpairojkit as a President of Henkel, Australia has Veronica Johns heading Fiat Chrysler’s operations down under. Di Humphries takes care of Pumpkin Patch in New Zealand, whereas Wang Feng Ying looks after the Great Wall Motor Company in China.

Eva Chen is the CEO of Trend Micro of Japan. Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita oversees the operations of Arcelor Mittal South Africa Limited.

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala fusses over Group Modelo in Mexico.

Women on Top

Globally, women have made it to the top in diverse sectors of businesses, ranging from IT, FMCG, chemicals, social media and banking. According to a Deloitte study, women comprise 12.5 percent of board directors on ASX 200 companies in Australia. Fortune lists an impressive array of powerful women, globally as also in USA. Think Ginni Rometty of IBM, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ellen Kullman of DuPont, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and you get a part of the picture in USA alone.

The European Commission proposed new rules last year to require companies listed in EU countries with more than 250 workers to have 40 percent of women on their boards by 2020. But Germany and other EU countries resisted, arguing that rules should be set at the national level.

Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty

According to German media reports, women currently hold about 12 percent of corporate board seats. Among the 30 largest DAX companies, women have 101 of the 488 board seats, or 22 percent, according to the DSW, Germany’s largest association of private investors. Coalition compulsions have now made the Angela Merkel government to introduce a legislation that will require German firms to allot 30 per cent of their non-executive board seats to women from 2016.

Norway, which is not an EU member, imposed a 40 per cent quota in 2003, a target reached in 2009. Norwegian companies can be liquidated if they fail to reach the target. However, a recent study by two University of Michigan professors shows that a government mandated quota led to younger and less experienced boards, thereby putting the businesses to higher risk.

In UK, the Cranfield report came up with the assertion that women hold more than one in five (21.8%) of non-executive FTSE 100 posts but still only account for little over one in 17 (5.8%) executive roles. That means there are just 18 women executive directors in Britain’s top boardrooms, against 292 men. Perhaps more alarming still, the Cranfield study found, among the broader top management tier at FTSE 100 firms – the key decision-making groups, known as executive committee members – the representation of women had fallen dramatically, down from 18.1% in 2009 to 15.3% today.

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi

Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the Cranfield report, suggested this shrinking pool of top-flight women managers made it harder for progress to be made with chief executive and finance director appointments. “Despite women dominating the fields of human resources, law and marketing … [executive positions in the boardroom] are still going to men, who are being promoted internally over experienced female candidates.”

Annika Falkengren heads SEB, a Swedeish Bank. Angela Ahrendts takes care of Burberry in UK, while Jonella Ligresti oversees the operations of Fondiaria-SAI of Italy.

Wanted: Women Directors in India

In India, men make up 94.7 per cent of the boardroom. A survey conducted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) earlier this year, across Commonwealth countries, found that India has one of the lowest percentiles of women in senior management positions, second only to Pakistan among the countries surveyed. In many cases, even when women are present in the board, they usually tend to be “sleeping partners”.

Kalpana Morparia

Kalpana Morparia

With the new Companies Act coming in force in India, mandating women’s representation on boards, companies are searching far and wide for good candidates. Naina Lal Kidwai of HSBC, Kalpana Morparia of JP Morgan and  Renuka Ramnath of Multiples Alternate Asset Management are all busy running their own companies. It does not help that top women bankers like Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma cannot be tapped because RBI rules do not allow bank CEOs to be on the boards of other companies except by rare special permission.

The first woman to head the SBI in its 206 year old history, Arundhati Bhattacharya, recently made headlines by joining the elite group of women who control banks and financial outfits in India.

Mallika Srinivasan is a well-known thought leader and strategist, heading TAFE. Vinita Bali heads Britannia, whereas Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw steers Biocon. Roshni Nadar takes care of HCL Corporation. Debjani Ghosh heads Intel’s operations in South Asia.

Chanda Kochhar

Chanda Kochhar

One of the highly respected business groups from India, Tatas, is already on a gender-diversity overdrive. Falugni Nayar, Vishakha Mulye and Ireena Vittal have recently joined select companies of the group.

A case in point is that of ICICI Bank where winds of a subtle change are blowing. Chanda Kochhar is making the company transform its work culture from a stress-ridden one to a more relaxed one. She has drawn an internal road-map to make the bank a service-led and not a distribution-led organization. One of the key challenges the bank is handling is to tone down aggression without losing its USP of being a dynamic and result-oriented organization.

According to information available in the public domain, out of India’s top 100 listed companies, 34 do not have any women directors. Demand for proven, independent women who are well experienced in board service, possess the required domain or functional skill experience and fit the culture of a company far outstrips supply.

Mallika Srinivasan

Mallika Srinivasan

In India, gender diversity is more pronounced in the banking sector. By nature, men and women are not better bankers. The conditioning by society perhaps plays a more important role in shaping up women’s skills in money management. One, they carry the burden of balancing the household budget. Two, they tend to be thrifty because they have to manage the household affairs within the resources provided by the bread-winner of the family.

The Glass Ceiling of Corporate Frauds

A study reported in one of the recent issues of the American Sociological Review found that only 9 percent of people involved in high-level financial  corporate conspiracies are women. The study also shows that female criminals stole less than their male counterparts. The study proposes that this could be happening because men see women as less criminally competent.

However, according to a survey of nearly 1400 global fraud cases from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, at the lower levels, women

Roshni Nadar Malhotra

Roshni Nadar Malhotra

made up 45 percent of the culprits. But at all levels, women steal less than their men counterparts. The difference lay in that women do it for a specific reason or purpose, whereas men tend to do it for longer periods, more as a habit of sorts. Women are brought up with an ‘ethic of care’ which means they are less likely to behave in a manner which hurts others.

Have Daughter, Be Gentler

In another study covering more than 10,000 Danish companies, a study done by Michael Dahl, Cristian Dezso and David Gaddis Ross found that CEOs paid lesser salaries to their staff after having had a son. But there was no reduction when they had a daughter! The hypothesis appears to be that daughters tend to make fathers more gentle and caring.

Studies led by Alice Eagly demonstrate that women tend to give more than their male counterparts in close relationships than men.

The Pink Shades of Philanthropy

Bill Gates believes that his mother Mary and wife Melinda are behind his philanthropic initiatives. At a wedding in 1993, Mary read out a letter she had written to Melinda: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’

It is quite likely that with more women at the helm of affairs, organizations may take their environmental and social responsibilities more seriously.

The Gender Bender 

Women tend to be more balanced and meticulous in their approach. Giving care and offering empathy comes naturally to them. Look across various companies and one would notice that most HR departments are wo-manned.

Annika Falkengren

Annika Falkengren

When it comes to the impact of women heading organizations, the jury is perhaps still out. Recently, professors at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and the University of Edinburgh examined two thousand firms and found that larger companies with bigger boards were more likely to add women. In other words, better performance was not necessarily due to women power in the top echelons.

In India, the challenge is to keep up a continuous supply of leadership talent of the delicately nurtured. This can be met only by progressive HR policies of organizations which proactively offer a level playing field to women enabling them to break the corporate glass ceilings.

Just as the Norway example has shown, it is debatable whether introduction of a government mandated quota is a good move. Yes, it does force

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

companies to do some soul-searching and ensure better succession planning while placing greater emphasis on gender parity. A positive beginning gets made. Over the long run, such steps would surely improve corporate governance levels and possibly check the cancer of graft and corruption nibbling away at the roots of India’s vibrant democracy.

Gender bias is deep-rooted in our psyche. Cultural bias and stereotyping restrains women from realizing their full potential. With her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and Will to Lead’, Sheryl Sandberg has recently brought back the agenda of gender inequality on the global conversation map.

From Capitalism to Idea-ism

We are rapidly moving from capitalism to ‘idea-ism’ where the definition of capital is getting enlarged with each passing decade. The term capital covers not only the material and financial resources but also its softer and gentler variety – intellectual resources. In a world of this nature, gender parity can bring in a hitherto latent capital. A more efficient use of the same would be a key driver of competitiveness in the days to come.

The moves to paint our ‘bored-rooms’ a deeper shade of pink are endeavors in the right direction. Howsoever long it takes to achieve gender parity in business circles, the journey has begun.

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One thought on “The sound of gentle steel

    ashokbhatia said:
    April 7, 2014 at 02:16

    Appreciate your linking this one.

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