Nirmala Sitharaman bats for greater female power

Boards cannot continue to be a comfortable men’s club, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday as she pushed for greater representation of women on boards.

Sitharaman, who was speaking at the Conclave of Women Directors at the Bombay Stock Exchange on September 16, said women must cross the thresholds that prevent them from joining corporate boards.

She said boards were happier to welcome a professional who was male. “I’m not saying that they are unhappy to welcome women,” she said.

Sitharaman said he heard former captain of India’s women’s cricket team, Mithali Raj, say that she looked up to Sachin Tendulkar growing up because there were no female cricketers. “Mithali has become this icon. There should be more Mithalis in the council chamber,” she said.

The FM said women are generally reluctant to take the training required to become a director. She said that many organizations have failed to find female directors. “As much as we say, in the case of successful women, we need to take that bold step forward as well,” she said.

The Minister of Finance said that there may be men who are condescending, but there are also many who are not.

“I wouldn’t be in front of you if the tough world kept women from succeeding,” she said.

The finance minister said she listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) for the first time on Friday. “Every Indian should be proud of BSE. It is an iconic institution,” she said.

She said when well-run companies release data that is accessible to everyone, it helps retailers and investors. “Women on the boards of these companies need to add more value to this. Women need to come on the boards of these companies,” she said. She repeated that it could no longer be a comfortable men’s club. “I don’t discourage socialization among male board members, but it’s a bit difficult for women to be on it,” she said.

Boards also have a responsibility to engage women. “Boards should make efforts to involve women. They need to rethink how they want to involve women,” she said.

She said the total number of women directors increased after the ESB term in 2013. “About 58% are independent women directors and 48% are non-independent directors,” she said.

According to the Companies Act 2013, certain categories of companies are required to have at least one female director on their board.

“Nifty50 companies have often hired the same women for their boards. There are also attempts to evade the mandate to include women on boards,” she said.

The finance minister said 15% of appointments were made within a month. “It’s all noticed and tracked. You call it gender diversity, the data points to profitability. What more do you want (boards of directors),” she said.

She said there is nothing more the government can do, it is now up to the boards to have more women on board. “MCA is following,” she said.

Speaking about the post-COVID work environment, Sitharaman said the western world says the number of people showing up for work is shockingly low. “People are not coming back to work, men are not ready to come to work,” she said.

Sitharaman said 35 to 40 lakh women are elected in panchayats. “Women rule our villages. One of the best administrators is there in these villages, running these villages. Those who said that these women will be proxies, have been mistaken by these women,” she said.

By 2047, Indian women will occupy remarkable positions in our economy, government and other sectors, she asserted.

She said today that investors are looking for well-governed companies. “Our democracy has always given equal rights to women, so why shouldn’t corporations give equal opportunities to women,” she said.

Speaking of pay parity, the finance minister said there was no room for disparity in pay and opportunities between a man and a woman.

(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)

First post: STI


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