A recent study points to a significant increase in the number of women in boardrooms. Some women business heads speak about what a woman brings to the table

The debate that women have marched into male bastions and succeeded is old hat. Women no longer need to prove their mettle in any predominantly male field.

In a current Hindi television serial the chairman of a company brings on to the board of his company a homemaker. He argues his rather unconventional decision by telling the board that a homemaker has all the management skills and more required of a business management executive. She can get a job done, he declares.

Earlier this year, a study conducted by Credit Suisse pointed to a significant increase in the number of women in the boardrooms. At this point one can ask what is it that the woman brings to a business that is significant and distinct and the reasons for the escalation in numbers of women in business.

Pamela Anna Mathew, Managing Director, OEN India Ltd., says, “Women bring to the table professional expertise of negotiating skills; attention to details that escapes the attention of most men; excellence in people management; and very often a balanced view considering the impact of the decisions on all stakeholders.”

A Chennai-based business coach (who does not want to be named) finds some key characteristics in a woman that help a business enterprise. These are empathy and her knack to look for solutions, ability to weather turbulence. “Men want it solved, and rush to decisions, women are more nurturing...more on relationship rather than task” he stresses.

On the increase in the number of women at the boardroom level, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson and MD Biocon Ltd, states, “I do believe gender diversity is of key importance at all Boards, given that women are beginning to form a visible part of any organisation. I also find that gender diversity introduces a balance of views and opinions that allows for more informed decisions. Most importantly, board memberships also help to develop strong professional and leadership skills in women.”

As institution builders

Meher Pudumjee, chairperson of Thermax, finds women to be an integral part of the process of “institution building”. She writes on e-mail: “I am not surprised to read that, overall, companies with greater diversity do better, not just in terms of share price and profitability, but to being relevant and respectable. Within an organisation, diversity at all levels is healthy and desirable, as it means being more inclusive. The multiple points of view that emerge from different backgrounds - whether it is upbringing, geographies, diverse industries, social contexts as also gender, bring a variety of perspectives into organisational conversations. This can enrich their cultures, resulting in innovative strategies and solutions. For companies, every stakeholder is as important as the other – be it employees, customers, business partners, the wider community or shareholders.”

On the reason for the increase in number of women in business, Pamela says, “Across the globe, a gender balanced work force at entry level has not been a problem. However, there were of course challenges to ensure few drop outs at mid-career, when women typically take time off to have or take care of families. But that is a thing of the past as most women today, have several opportunities at work place, flexi hours, prolonged maternity leave and work life balance options. Hence the jump in numbers when compared to the past is mainly due to the change as mentioned above.”

The business coach argues that women managers are actually mandatory to a good business. He says, “Women are a significant constituency of the customer base, so a female leadership perspective helps. With them diversity and inclusiveness is across suppliers, customers, other stakeholders. How would an all male management team run a female cosmetics company? As employees are also increasingly women, so a representation at the top is helpful.”

At a time when gender is no longer an issue women still continue to make a difference. Pamela says that despite higher acceptance levels gender in today’s world of business continues to stick out like a sore thumb. “This is because old mind set refuse to change. It is better to ignore this, rather than break one's neck to change such stubborn attitudes. Women who are confident about their worth are patient enough to have the last laugh.”

And women are having the last laugh at all levels of a business.